From Margaret Atwood's MasterClass

Who Tells the Story: Narrative Point of View

Choosing the right point of view to tell your story from involves a lot of trial and error. Margaret explains the impact this decision has on your story, and offers an exercise to help you explore the effects of various points of view.

Topics include: Choosing Your Point of View • You Can Use Multiple Points of View • You Can Always Change Your Mind • What Does Your Narrator Know? • An Exercise in Point of View

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Choosing the right point of view to tell your story from involves a lot of trial and error. Margaret explains the impact this decision has on your story, and offers an exercise to help you explore the effects of various points of view.

Topics include: Choosing Your Point of View • You Can Use Multiple Points of View • You Can Always Change Your Mind • What Does Your Narrator Know? • An Exercise in Point of View

Margaret Atwood

Teaches Creative Writing

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Preview

Who are you writing this for? And what do you want to tell them? I think there might be a bit too much theory kicking around in the world, that it has to be this. It has to be that. But the first thing is writing is a voice. And so it's a way of recording the human voice. Whose voice is it that is doing the talking? And to whom are they speaking? Because there's always someone. So once upon a time, it was either an omniscient third person narrator who would tell you about the characters and tell you what they were doing, and in some instances, what they were thinking. The he is she, you can either be a narrator taking a long shot. And the omniscient narrator knows everything. So the omniscient narrator can say, little did Red Riding Hood know, but behind the tree, there was lurking a wolf. And there was nothing that would please him more than eating not only Little Red Riding Hood, but also her grandmother. And that's what he was scheming to do. As the know-it-all narrator, you can say those things. But if you're not going to be that know-it-all narrator, you can go to Little Red Riding Hood. She was happily picking flowers when out from behind a tree stepped a gentlemen clad in a rather hairy tweed suit. Oh, my goodness, said Little Red Riding Hood, et cetera. So you're not necessarily telling all, but you're seeing that encounter through the eyes of one person. You can move it around in whatever way you wish in order to tell your story. We also have stream of consciousness that entered. It's not exactly a first person narrative, but sort of the flow of ideas that goes through the character's head. So who is talking? To whom are they talking? Are they talking to the reader? Are they talking to somebody else in the book? [MUSIC PLAYING] There's no rule that says you have to have one point of view. I think I've mentioned "The Sound and the Fury" by William Faulkner before, in which there are four different narrators and four different points of view. And some of them are first person. And some of them are third person. And the perspective keeps getting further and further away. So the first person is-- you're smashed right up against that character. You're right in their mind. And then we move back a bit. And by the end, we're seeing an overview. We're seeing a long view. The films and cameras really influence the novel quite a bit. So this would be a novel in which the shot moves back. you're looking at the same thing but from further away. [MUSICPLAYING] How do you decide who's going to tell your story? Learn by doing. You pick a likely candidate and start off. And if that is not going well, maybe you need to reconsider. So if it's not going well and you started it in the third person, try switching to the first. If you started in the first person and that's not going well, try switching to the third. If that character isn't working out for you at all, maybe you need to come at it from the point of vie...

The art of powerful storytelling

Called the “Prophet of Dystopia,” Margaret Atwood is one of the most influential literary voices of our generation. In her first-ever online writing class, the author of The Handmaid’s Tale teaches how she crafts compelling stories, from historical to speculative fiction, that remain timeless and relevant. Explore Margaret’s creative process for developing ideas into novels with strong structures and nuanced characters.

Reviews

4.7
Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Definitely gained some new pointers on how to go about my writing. I enjoyed this class and I recommend it to someone else who is starting out as a writer :)

I have used this class as a springboard to dive into writing my first novel. This is something I have been meaning to do for 50 years! I am now 9000 words in so something must be working.

the classes were quite shorter and less specific than I expected. They were overall good advices but I would have appreciated a more in depth advise about some things

I am in awe of Margaret Atwood now more than ever. I would like to re watch all of the lessons again. Incredible! Have learned so much! Fantastic teacher.

Comments

A fellow student

In most of my stories it is either first or third person and the character and reader know the almost the same amount. But in the the story I am currently working on the main character knows as much as the reader maybe only a little more but a different character who is almost in and out of the story so far knows more then the main character.

Debbie J.

I love the way Dracula was written...., in the form of letters or entries in a journal. Have considered writing the story I'm currently working on from this perspective.

Jenny H.

I am currently working on a story told from multiple points of view (4) and it is really something to keep it all straight sometimes :)

A fellow student

I think this helped me solve a problem with one of my longest writing projects :O This lesson was bordering on magical for me.

Sam

The exercise of writing in different POVs for the same event has opened up a whole new page of opportunity for me. This is very helpful!

Amadeus M.

Finishing this chapter, I already have heaps of new ideas and avenues to go from here. This was extremely helpful!

Gareth S.

This has been a real eye-opener of a lesson for me. This is such a helpful chapter.

Angela K.

This is such a helpful chapter, I can't even tell! I've never asked myself what the narrator knows and whether she or he knows more than the reader or the other way round. That's an interesting fact I've never cared about. Unfortunately. From now on I will. :)

Suzanne B.

I finished the battle scene from another character's POV. By doing this, I learned more about what was going on, and what would need to change, and what I needed to add. Invaluable! So I have this scene from 2 people's POV. I will write it a third time from Ethan's POV. He's a character (this is spec. fiction) who doesn't actually appear until the end of the novel. But rewriting this scene has given me a lot of information I wouldn't have had otherwise. I will only attach this one section. Thanks. I give up trying to upload stuff. It's too cumbersome. Really, it shouldn't be such a struggle. I tried filepicker, the file mgt. system you use and I still couldn't get it. And it came with lots of warnings.

Suzanne B.

P.S. Oh, and Ms. Atwood's work, for me, is a definite influence. Like the assignments, her writing helps me ask the right questions of my own work.