Ursula Le Guin talks about how points of view in fiction come and go in popularity, with first person and limited third person all the rage for the last 100 years or so. I had never thought of point of view as a “fad” (even if a relatively long lived fad), but I guess that all depends on your point of view!
Her goal with chapter and exercise 7 is to define and get you to experiment with different kinds of point of view, especially ones you are not comfortable with. The exercise starts out with the one of the POVs currently in style, limited third person, and then expands to other less common POVs.
For this one, I’m telling a tale that was told to me at a work happy hour. It was related as a true story, but you know how happy hour stories go…
First, Le Guin’s exercise instructions:
“Exercise 7: Points of View
Think up a situation for a narrative sketch of 200-350 words. It can be anything you like but should involve several people doing something. (Several means more than two. More than three will be useful.) It doesn’t have to be a big, important event, though it can be; but something should happen, even if only a cart tangle at the supermarket…
Please use little or no dialogue in these POV exercises. While the characters talk, their voices cover the POV, and so you’re not exploring that voice, which is the point of the exercise.
Part One: Two Voices
First: Tell your little story from a single POV, that of a participant in the event – an old man, a child, a cat, whatever you like. Use limited third person.
Second: Retell the story from the POV of one of the other people involved in it. Again, use limited third person.”
Steering the Craft, pages 71-72.
The Mountain Lion Killing
By the time she pulled into the campground, there were a dozen people in a semi-circle around the long tan body in the dirt. Officer Nuella grimaced to herself; even from the dusty window of the truck, she could make out the white belly, black tipped tail, and massive paws of the dead mountain lion. At the zenith of the circle, directly behind the carcass, was a man holding a hunting rifle and two teenaged boys. She knew from the dispatcher it was a father and his two sons, but the matching light brown mops on top of their heads and round faces left no doubt on this point.
It was illegal to shoot a mountain lion in California, end-of-sentence. There was no season and no license a hunter could buy. Cull permits were issued only to Wildlife, Fish, and Game hunters to deal with a cat that had attacked a human being. On her way out to the campground, though, she thought about what her old trainee supervisor, Mac Thompson, had told her about these kinds of cases. He was a salty old chap and a passionate hunter himself; he tended think highly of other dyed-in-the-wool hunters in such a liberal state. He said there were two kinds of accidental mountain lion shootings: the ones you file a report for and levy fines and the ones that are 3S. Shoot, shovel, and shut up.
Officer Nuella shifted the truck into park and got out. She could feel the eyes of the crowd watch her grab her clipboard and slam the door to the rig. She ignored them and focused on the two boys. Based on height she figured one was a couple of years older than the other. The taller one met her gaze with a pained face and quickly looked away; the younger one was staring at the dead cougar and didn’t look up. Nuella wondered which one had fired the shot. The younger one reminded her of her own son.
The other hunters and campers in the campground began to gather as soon as Eddie’s older brother and father emerged from the trailhead dragging the big cat by its back paws. They laid the carcass down in their campsite. Eddie’s face got hot and flushed: all eyes were on them and folks were trotting over, dropping their conversations and card games. A long low whistle sounded from off to his right. His father was discussing something with the gristled old hunter from the campsite next to them. Eddie couldn’t hear the conversation, but it seemed the old timer was trying to talk his father out of something. Finally, the man put his hands up, a tattered old plaid shirt slipping down his bony forearms, and fetched his short wave radio.
It seemed like an eternity before the ranger arrived. The roar of the heavy diesel engine laboring up the dirt road to the campground alerted everyone to incoming law enforcement. The crowd filtered back from the far-flung corners of the campground and stood around the dead cat once more. The green and white truck pulled up close and Eddie could see the ranger was a woman. Her dark hair was pulled tight into a ponytail. She swung down from the truck and leaned back in to grab something. Eddie saw her utility belt; the black handgun and silver handcuffs fastened into their holsters with thick strips of leather. He looked down at the rapidly cooling mountain lion and focused on its tan pelt. He had the sudden urge to reach out and pet the animal; he imagined how soft the fur would feel; so much softer and warmer than those silver handcuffs, he was sure.