Exploring the art of prose


Author: Rachel Luria

Author’s Note

When talking about the craft of writing fiction, it has become commonplace to use film metaphors. This seems like an apt enough comparison as fiction relies on image and setting and voice every bit as much as a film. Using words, rather than light and movement, a writer can frame a panoramic landscape or zoom in on a single detail, and everything in between. I, myself, often tell my students that writing is a lot like acting on the page. Like an actor, you inhabit your character, become that character, think her thoughts, speak in her voice. This is especially true when writing in the first person, which may be why I’ve never been very comfortable in that point of view. I’m not a great actor and I’ve always felt more comfortable behind the camera than in front of it. That is the feeling I get when I write in third person, even third person limited: holding up a camera, directing the action, controlling the focus. I feel like I, the writer, disappear in a way that I don’t when I’m using first person.

Early drafts of “Children Will Drown in Water Like This” were written in the first person, however. The story was always more about an intimate look at adolescence and budding sexuality than action, so it felt as if I should try to let the girl tell her own story. But, not only did I bump up against my usual misgivings about this point of view, the story also seemed more and more to belong to the boy every bit as much as it did to the girl. After a few drafts, I did come to feel more comfortable inhabiting a child’s mind and I didn’t want to give up that voice completely. Ultimately, the third person limited point of view that switched between the boy and the girl provided the perfect compromise. I felt I could capture their language and thought process while still holding the “camera” at just enough distance to frame them both.

Switching points of view is always tricky, especially in a short story. You don’t want it to feel arbitrary or to come without warning. I think your readers will stay with you through just about anything, however, if you establish the rules right from the beginning. So I tried to make it clear from the first paragraph that the girl and the boy would get equal time and that this was the story of them both. I also tried to use transitions to make the switches as seamless as possible. For example, we hear the girl’s thoughts about the boy’s slight build followed immediately by his thought that he wishes he were bigger.

I have written a few stories in first person, but third person limited remains my preference. I love the freedom it allows to talk about a character in a way the character would probably never talk about herself. One day perhaps, as a challenge, I will spend more time center stage, but for now I am happy to shine the light, rather than stand in it.

RACHEL LURIA is an Associate Professor at Florida Atlantic University’s Wilkes Honors College. In June 2018, she will be the Artist-in-Residence in Everglades, where she will compose original fables inspired by the wilderness of the Florida Everglades. Her nonfiction was named a Notable Essay of 2015 by the editors of Best American Essays and her work has appeared in The Normal School, Sport Literate, Saw Palm, Phoebe, Dash Literary JournalYemassee, and others.