Writing Lesson of the Day

A few years back I worked with a very good writer who was getting an MBA from MIT Sloan School of Business. He came in after he had defended his very interesting thesis and threw himself into the chair beside me. He said, “I have figured out the one thing I have learned at Sloan.”

“What’s that?” I asked, curious.

“If your figure isn’t working, add arrows.”

Now on the one hand, he was kind of kidding, but really he also sort of wasn’t. When you are making a figure that explains some phenomenon, the arrows are the moving parts, the dynamic part of the system. So if your figure doesn’t she the important bit, of course it’s not going to work.

So the main thing I have learned from churning out angst and fluff and action and a few other things at a superhuman (yeah, it’s a pun, deal with it) rate these last two months is this:


If your scene/story/chapter isn’t working, you are probably in the wrong point of view.


Why the Change is Going to Work


So I woke up this morning realizing why the change to my novel is probably going to work. I had written about one hundred pages in this other point of view, and I like most of it. But then I hit several events that I just didn’t know how to tackle. This morning I realize that that was because they probably need to be written in this other (previously minor) character’s point of view.

This is something I have noticed before, that if you don’t have the right narrator, you can’t really write the scene. People always say that you just write what happens, don’t you? But this goes beyond the Rashomon effect, where how people see the same events makes them interpret (and therefore narrate) them very differently. It’s more like that thing that says the presence of experimenters watching an experiment changes the experiment. As Terry Pratchett would say, It’s quantum.

If I don’t know who is looking at a car crash, I can’t tell you how the car crash happens. It makes no sense, but it’s true. So this might be time to pat myself on the head and find a writer’s mug that says “Damn, I’m good!” or, at the very least, “I’m smarter than I look.”

It must be true. I’ve written 7800 words in three days.

Conversation with Classic Bridge, Birds and Fog

  1. Fog


The people like to call this bridge golden, though by day

It appears to be red and by night, black. I never see it

The way they do, nor would I want to. I am an artist

Of black and white and all the uncountable shades

Of grey and gray in between. I paint with water and

The air is my medium. Call it hydrography and assume

Viewers who want to feel the pictures I produce

Damply, on their faces, like morning and a new day.


  1. Birds


A bridge is fine if all you want to do is pause

Between one bit of land and the other, holding on

To the hard, cold, damp steel with your feet, and

Watching the cars go this way and that, watching

Sky blur into bay, and bay into sky: all that grey

And gray. On our feathers, the fog huddles close

Then we cast it off as we burst into the damp air:

Speed! Freedom! Even the light cannot catch us.


  1. Bridge


No one values stability the way I do, or the way

I reach out to both sides: always. Standing still

Is an unappreciated art. Fog appears and disappears.

Birds land and take off again. I, alone, remain.

Connecting land and land, grey and gray, birds

And fog. I, alone, repeatedly painted red by humans,

Grey and grey by fog and dusk and early morning,

Hold land and water together with my solitude.

How Point of View Changes Content


A long time ago, while I was living in Japan after college, two of my best friends from school got married. In my absence, they invited my parents to serve as Pinch Guests. I got three letters describing the wedding and they could have all gone to three different weddings for all I could tell. My mother described what everyone wore (and what is tulle, anyway?). James, the best man and a musician, described the bachelor party and the music for the wedding and reception. The bride wrote about how Wonderful everything had been it was just so Wonderful it was Wonderful! I suspect she could not remember a thing that had happened. This is an example of the Rashomon Effect, which as Wikipedia tells us is “contradictory interpretations of the same event by different people…. It is named for Akira Kurosawa‘s film Rashomon, in which a crime involving four individuals is described in four mutually contradictory ways.”

We have seen this used in lots of films and TV shows, from Hero and Gone Girl to the X Files and Garfield and Friends, and often the use is to shift blame or take credit, but I think it is fun to show how two different characters see an event and choose what they focus their attention on. You walk into someone’s living room and you might notice the interior decoration, but I am going to notice the absence or presence of books and what genres the owner reads. So in theory, if I have written a scene from the point of view of an American interior decorator and I change the pov to that of a Japanese businessman, the whole scene should change.

“Rashomon Effect.” Wikipedia. 24 March 2015. Web. 19 April 2015.