Last week, I introduced Ursula Le Guin’s exercise for chapter 7, which is her chapter on point of view. This week, she has us using the same story from last week (if possible) to explore less common POVs. I found I was able to use my story from last week and keep it going – so we are back in the campground with a freshly dead Mountain Lion.
To review 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 1: Two Voices
POV was Third Person Limited, two versions, two different characters. (If you’d like to see what that looked like for my teeny tiny story, go here.)
Part 2: Detached Narrator
Tell the same story using the detached author or “fly on the wall” POV.
Part 3: Observer-Narrator
If there wasn’t a character in the original version who was there but was not a participant, only an onlooker, add such a character now. Tell the same story in that character’s voice, in first or third person.”
Steering the Craft, Pages 71-73
Part 2: “The Mountain Lion Killing” using Detached Narrator POV
The father and older son emerged from the trailhead into camp dragging the big cat by its two back legs. The younger boy shuffled close behind the mountain lion’s bobbing head. The sight of such an unusual return quickly drew a crowd from the other campsites; the murmurs of those assembled carried far in the quiet wilderness. Neither of the teenaged boys made eye contact with the other campers and the younger one in particular kept his chin on his chest and his gaze squarely on the dead predator at his feet. Meanwhile, the father discussed the situation with the old man in the campsite next to them and asked to borrow his short-wave radio in order to call the nearest ranger station. The old man was reluctant at first, professing a distaste for all manner of law enforcement in such settings. The woods, he’d said before giving in and fetching his radio, has a way of sorting this stuff out itself. The father called the ranger station and reported the shooting. And they waited for the ranger to drive from White Pine out to the campground.
The roar of the ranger’s pickup climbing the steep dirt road was heard in the campground an hour later. The audience reassembled near the mountain lion carcass and waited for the ranger to get out of her vehicle. She pulled out a clipboard, adjusted her belt, and surveyed the scene. Her eyes lingered on the dead cat and then on the younger teen. He did not look at her and only stared resolutely at the mountain lion’s flank.
Part 3: “The Mountain Lion Killing” using Observer-Narrator POV
It was the swishing, sliding sound of something heavy being dragged over soft soil that made me pause with my hand on a card in mid-deal. I looked at Tom and Nolan and made a face; Tom shook his head and tapped the decrepit wooden picnic table in front of him to indicate that he would very much like me to keep dealing his hand. But I hesitated a moment longer – the swishing sound was now joined by trudging footfalls and a nascent commotion. Nolan frowned and rose halfway out of his seat. I got up when I heard the long low whistle of another camper that was the universal signal for “holy shit this is something to see.”
I’d seen the family in camp yesterday – a man and his two sons. I’d only really noted them at all because the two teens so strongly resembled their father that it was adorable. Otherwise they were unremarkable as far as campers go: they had the appropriate gear and seemed to know how to use it, they were mostly quiet, and the father was friendly to passers-by.
But now they were remarkable indeed. The father and the older boy were dragging a large mountain lion by its two back legs. The big cat’s head stuttered over the hardpan ground between the campsites; it’s back was a matted mass of tawny fur and caked blood. I looked at Tom and Nolan. Tom raised his brow in an expression that matched my own thought: what the hell happened here?
Nearly the entire campground was gathered, folks standing around murmuring, some taking pictures with their phones. Nolan stuck his hands in his pockets and started to sidle closer to the action. A solo old-timer was camped next to the family – a real mountain man type, with ratty plaid shirt and an ancient camper van – and now he was discussing the situation with the father. After a few minutes mountain-man climbed stiffly into his camper and returned with a short-wave radio. They were calling for someone and lord knows there was no cell phone reception out here, despite what the phone company commercials say. But I couldn’t make out what they were saying into the hand-held microphone.
Nolan sidled back to us, hands still in his pockets.
“They are calling the ranger station up at White Pines.” He said.
“Why?” Tom said.
Nolan shrugged. “Why do you think? To report the shooting.”
Tom shook his head, “Idiots.”
I had a lot of fun with the Observer-Narrator POV (even permitting myself a little dialogue at the end) and not so much fun with the Detached Narrator POV. Le Guin notes that the Detached Narrator POV was popular around the turn of the century (1900, that is) as well as in minimalist and “brand-name” fiction. She says, “If you can move a reader while using this cool voice, you’ve got something really moving going on.” I’m not sure I succeeded on that one, and I found that POV to be a bit clinical for my taste. We have one more POV exercise next week where we expand the story further and get to be omniscient! Wee!
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