This is the last part of the exercise for Chapter 7 – the Point of View chapter in Steering the Craft. I’ll be honest, I was tempted to skip it, because hadn’t we had enough POV exercises already? But in the spirit of completion and to get outside my POV comfort zone, I stuck to it and did part 4. So here’s one last version of “The Mountain Lion Killing” – and this time we get the whole back story.
To review Le Guin’s directions for the exercise:
“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 (Click here for the story in this POV)
POV was Third Person Limited, two versions, two different characters.
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.”
(Click here for the story in these POVs)
Part 4: Involved Author
Tell the same or a new story using the involved-author POV.
Part 4 may require you to expand the whole thing, up to two or three pages, 1000 words or so. You may find you need to give it a context, find out what led up to it, or follow it further. The detached author takes up as little room as possible, but the involved author needs a fair amount of time and space to move around in.”
Steering the Craft, Pages 71-73
Part 4: The Mountain Lion Killing, Involved-Author POV
Of course they had never discussed what to do in the event a mountain lion dropped out of the trees, landed between them on the trail, and began stalking their father. Eddie had once looked up animal attack statistics: right next to being eaten by a great white shark, the chances of being attacked by a mountain lion were slimmer than winning the lottery. And while Eddie was sure that neither he nor Grayson would know what to do if they won millions of dollars in the lottery, it turned out that they were in possession of natural instincts when it came to mountain lions.
Eddie had been walking between his older brother and father when it happened. And he was holding a rifle. This was the first time they’d gone out hunting together since he’d turned 13; he was proudly in possession of his own California junior hunting license.
They were about a mile from camp when the tawny colored missile landed precisely and silently on the trail not half a dozen feet behind their father. Neither boy could believe it, really. Both of them froze, agape. Even more unbelievable was that their father continued walking down the trail, mumbling to himself about his backache from sleeping on the ground, completely unaware.
For its part, the big cat neither considered nor acknowledged the two man-cubs; its prey was the two-legged deer tottering cluelessly in front of it. The purity of its thoughts was written on its body: the flattened ears, the taut back muscles, the careful steps.
The lion crouched down.
Grayson stuttered unformed words, just syllables that didn’t assemble.
Later, Eddie would not remember having thoughts. His arm and finger had motion and action, but there were no thoughts.
He leveled the gun and said, in a voice so deep that he didn’t recognize it as his own, “Dad. Duck.”
It was as if God himself had issued the command and unlike an ordinary thing said by Eddie in his pubescent voice, their father complied without looking back and without hesitation. He lurched left, falling against the bramble on the hillside.
Eddie pulled the trigger.
The report echoed down the ravine as the kickback jammed the gun into Eddie’s shoulder.
The mountain lion crumpled to the ground, the back of its neck erupting a dark red.
And all was still.
Eddie stared at the downed predator. Stared frozen to the spot until his father took the rifle from his hands.
There had not been much discussion after that – most of the communication between them was looks, nods, and gestures. His father slung the rifle on his back, tipped his head at Grayson, and then pointed at the mountain lion’s back paw. They hoisted the rear end of the cat and began to trudge silently uphill back to camp.
Eddie didn’t know what to say anyway. Perhaps if he’d grown up in a more rural place or in an era when humans were more often on the dinner menu, he wouldn’t have felt so humbled by the thought that the cat was hunting his father. Moreover, he was rendered speechless by what could have been – what if he’d missed? What if he’d become paralyzed by fear? What if he’d not been holding the rifle to begin with? These alternate versions of the story blossomed in his inner eye and became real: universes where his father was bitten in the neck and dragged off into the bushes by a mountain lion as they watched in horror.
Such thoughts also danced about the brains of his father and brother, but they were able to quell them somewhat by having a physical job to do: the mountain lion was a big male and he was heavy.
Emerging into the open glen of the high Sierra camp from the ravine felt like someone shining a spotlight on them. There were a few other hunters staying in the campground, a beautiful, peaceful place, and prime base camp in the middle of the hunting season. Any large game would have attracted attention, but this was an instant showstopper. In death, the black and tan cat would be the center of the commotion of a human crowd, such a commotion as it could scarcely have fathomed in life.
Even as people gathered, Eddie wouldn’t look at them. He didn’t know what they thought and he didn’t want them to try to read his mind. He guessed he was a hero, he’d saved his father’s life, after all – but he didn’t feel that way. And the assembled crowd didn’t murmur such things. They could see that this man and his two teenaged sons had shot a magnificent and protected mountain lion and what was the explanation for that?
Father and son laid the cat out in front of their campsite and now they needed to figure out what to do.
The old man in the campsite next door came over with his hands in his frayed pockets. He raised his brow at the father and tipped his chin towards the carcass.
“I don’t get a signal here. I think I need to borrow your CB radio – call the ranger station,” their father said.
“Why do that?” The old man chewed his lip.
“A lot of reasons.”
“Was it an accident?”
“If you call self-defense an accident.”
The old man was stringently economical with his words even in the happiest of times, but this situation seemed to call for some advice. “All the more reason to take care of it tonight with a shovel. Why involve the state? The woods have a way of sorting this stuff out – the mountains sort out liars and the woods sort out accidents. A good ranger will agree with me. A bad ranger – well, you don’t want one of those.”
Le Guin notes that this POV was one of the most popular historically: all myths, legends, folktales, children’s stories and most fiction was written this way before about 1915. I was surprised to find I struggled with this POV. It is supposed to afford the author a lot of freedom. But it afforded me too much freedom – like a car with wacky steering, I found it hard to control. I wasn’t sure which way to go or whose head to be in. Perhaps because I’m so used to it, the strictures of 3rd and 1st person limited give me structure and direction.