Writing Exercise: Points of View

Think up a narrative sketch involving several people.

Part One (pt. 1): Tell the story from a participant’s POV (limited third person).

Jessica was writing out her check for her dental visit when she heard the screams. The receptionist, a pudgy and dead-eyed old woman, looked up at her face, then slowly turned around to the glass front of the office. Outside, several people were fleeing on foot up the one-way street, glimpsed through parked cars.

Someone else in the clinic asked what was going on. Jessica got a sinking feeling in her stomach, a reflexive not again in her head. All the cellphones in the clinic began to vibrate or chime. The receptionist began to make gobbling noises. Absolutely not wanting to, Jessica ran outside to see what was going on.

Most people were fleeing westward. She was one of several people in front of Central Dental and Brooks Brothers, gaping up 44th St. when the upper sixth of the MetLife building came down. Her attention had been commanded by the pedestrians and bike couriers, but then a movement overhead caught her eye. She looked up at the skyscraper at the end of the street just as something massive swiped through the air. It looked as though… well, it wasn’t a plane, but something sliced through the building. Masonry and glass exploded through one floor and one floor only, leaving the upper structure to hover, like in a cartoon, and then collapse upon the floors below it.

People yelled about bombs and terrorists, but this was nothing like that. Jessica knew, when the huge arm came out from behind the Grand Central Tech building. It was a tremendous arm in a gray wool sleeve, familiar enough but impossibly huge. With an open palm it smacked the upper floors of the MetLife tower the way a young man would smack a friend upside the back of his head. It looked that playful, and it took that quickly, but floors 50 through 59 grudgingly rotated through space, falling toward 44th St. like a toddler throwing itself to the carpet in a slow-burning tantrum, showering debris up two blocks. She was still staring at the huge, elegant bare hand in the sky when a spray of bricks washed over her.

Part One (pt. 2): Tell the story from another POV.

“Take ‘er easy, Coleman. Thanks for watching my bike,” Arturo told the doorman, waving over his shoulder. Coleman chuckled and touched the visor of his cap. Arturo’s lightweight fixie rested against GCH Partners’ facade; he mounted it swiftly, adjusted his courier bag, and assessed the sidewalk traffic up 44th St. Slow day, only a few shoppers and business people: he could chance a quick sprint up to 5th Avenue rather than argue with drivers coming down the one-way.

There was a collision of rubble far overhead, like something collapsing to the ground but with too much altitude. Arturo looked at everyone on the sidewalk, who were looking at each other, and then they all looked up at the same time.

A massive section of masoned ledge shot straight down to Vanderbilt. The traffic cop in his yellow vest didn’t even have time to react: he was gazing up dumbly, and then there was a section of building in his place, jutting out of the pavement at a strange angle.

He saw the huge arm swing back, then come racing up to the top dozen floors of the MetLife building. Next to the skyscraper was a tall man in an expensive suit. The suit looked fitted to him pretty well, a long and lean guy with an easy smile on his face. But the man stretched on up to the sky: he was gigantic. His long, lean leg went on up in one tailored wool sheath up to a white dress shirt under the open blazer, and his arm swung ponderously forward to slam into the upper section of the MetLife skyscraper.

He was smiling. The giant man was smiling as he caught the building in a haymaker, and then the building took a short leap and raced toward the earth.

Reflexively, Arturo kicked off and tore up the sidewalk. His muscle memory enabled him to expertly dodge pedestrians in states of shock and fear. No one yelled at his audacity, shouldering his way through the crowd. Everyone was moving in the same direction, except he was faster.

Behind him there was a terrific explosion, then a rush of wind, then dust filling all vision, and then something struck Arturo in the back, from his skull to his pelvis.

Part Two: Tell the same story using the detached narrator (“fly on the wall” POV).

Shoppers and business people walked up and down East 44th Street, in the shadows of the corridor of tall buildings. A woman in a black-and-white blouse stood by the curb in front of the shoe repair shop to have a smoke; another woman in a black lace skirt walked into the street to get around the construction going on in an adjacent building. Ahead of them, a traffic cop in a bright yellow vest directed slow-moving traffic in front of the MetLife building.

A huge brown men’s Oxford shoe slammed into Vanderbilt Ave. It was as large as four or five cars, and it buried itself several feet into the pavement. Almost promptly the air was filled with screams and car horns. Pedestrians on Vanderbilt looked skyward.

The leg stretched on up to where it connected at a massive crotch; the other leg reached down somewhere behind Grand Central Terminal. Upon these balanced a tremendous torso in a fitted white shirt and wrapped in a gray Italian wool blazer. All of these were of gigantic proportions, fluttering in the upper channels of wind usually reserved for the top floors of buildings.

Pedestrians slowly shifted from staring to running away from the enormous shoe. They pushed each other on the sidewalk and trotted around parked cars. Cars in traffic rode up to the bumpers of cars ahead of them, trying to shove drivers who weren’t reacting as quickly to the event.

The gargantuan man in the suit grinned to himself. He stood slightly taller than the MetLife building. Raising an eyebrow, he drew his flattened hand to his chest, then swung it in a flat arc through the skyscraper. It plowed, nearly without resistance, through the 48th and 49th floors. The upper ten floors wobbled and sank upon the sheared wreckage. The man laughed silently, then brought his hand back up in a return to smack the top section of the building with the flat of his palm.

The upper floors dislodged as a whole, sliding off the skyscraper and toppling forward through the cool air to gain acceleration in a descent. The giant man studied its motion with interest.

Part Three: Retell the story from an onlooker’s perspective, in first or third person.

“Caroline, what’s going on out there?” Neal’s voice echoed from the tiny bathroom. “Turn on the TV or something.”

Fucking Christ, I just couldn’t even finish a goddamned crossword in peace. I slammed my pen onto the table, skidded my chair back to make it really complain, then stomped over to the living room. The hollow thudding I made caused a small part of my brain to think about how the neighbors downstairs would take this, but fuck it. Neal could explain to them how I’m forbidden by federal law to ever have ten minutes to do something I want to.

“Hold it down out there!” Neal yelled. “Neighbors! And what’s going on?”

“Hold your fucking horses!” I screamed back. I couldn’t find the remotes anywhere, so I started tearing cushions off the couch. I guess one spun awry and knocked a planter off the spindly wire perch Neal scavenged out of someone’s trash last year.

“What was that?”

“It was that stupid fucking fern you put in front of the window!”

“Don’t hurt the fern! It’s cleaning up formaldehyde out of the air.”

“Then you fucking shit out one of the goddamned remotes and turn on your own goddamned TV!”

I heard fumbling around in the bathroom, then a flush and the sink, and then my pear-shaped boyfriend came trundling into the living room. He looked at the planter, shattered on the floor, then looked at me accusingly. “This is a corporate rental,” he reminded me for the hundredth time. “I’ll boot your tight little butt back to Newark if you  keep this shit up.”

I flipped him off, threw a cushion back on the couch, and threw myself atop that. “Well? Turn on your fucking TV,” I challenged him.

Neal scowled at me, which looked ridiculous with his unshaven jowls, then bent down (with just a little plumber’s crack above his sweatpants) and stood up holding the TV remote. I rolled my eyes and he turned to a local station.

A young woman in a conservative haircut was staring at the camera in a stern trance. “−of a major event downtown, though sources right now are questionable and,” she smirked at her papers, “the reports are a little bizarre.” She touched her earpiece. “I’m told we have raw video from a viewer in the area. Bear with us.”

The scene cut from the news studio to a shaky, blurry vertical rectangle. This galled Neal, who considered himself an auteur, and who had to comment at the TV as though his voice could not only travel backward through time, but broadcast through the TV feed to the jackass’s smartphone. This was not one of Neal’s most enamoring habits.

The narrow strip in the center of our widescreen TV showed a handsome man in a nice suit. He was laughing about something. I wondered why this was newsworthy. He was surrounded by strange furniture, like featureless high chairs all in drab colors, and he seemed to be outside. The video quality was especially shitty and it was hard to tell.

“Just hold your camera still… No, don’t zoom in, you fucking trash.” Neal’s voice went nasal when he critiqued someone on technical details. I wondered if he knew that.

The anchor’s voice came in over the video, overriding a lot of screaming and angry traffic sounds. What the hell was going on? She started to describe an intersection, but she had to be wrong because that was near where we were staying. “Cut the sound,” I snapped. Instead of giving me a fight or a look, he simply muted the TV. Chaos floated up from the street level outside. I ran to the window and looked out.

There, to the left, over the bank, I saw the top half of the man on TV. He had medium-length shaggy hair that swept in the winds, and his broad shoulders overpowered any building in the area. He moved so slowly at that height, almost as though he were fighting someone underwater. Yes, he was struggling with something, I think, the way one shoulder pulled back and then his elbow drew up, but he was by himself. What was he doing?

I looked at the TV. The man was standing alone on Vanderbilt, his legs straddling Grand Central Terminal, and he was taking punches at the MetLife building. “Oh, my God,” whispered Neal.

I turned back to the window. The huge man was moving forward, his smile disappearing behind Grand Central Tech. My head became dizzy and I felt as though I were standing behind myself, watching myself plant my hands against the window sill, listening to myself whimper, craning to see more.

Part Four: Tell the same story using the involved author POV.

A yellow light spun overhead, warning outsiders that the studio was about to start recording. Techs scrambled, organizing cables over the floor, pulling all unnecessary appliances and boxes to the walls.

The director shooed the stylist away from Dylan. “He looks great. Offstage, please. Okay, now, Dylan,” he said, focusing on the young model, “no more than one block in any direction, okay?”

“Yeah, I got it.” The tall, lean young man was the picture of boredom: sloped shoulders, sleepy eyes wandering around the room.

“Seriously, listen to me. The shunt will place you at Lexington and 42nd. All you have to do is stand there in the middle of the intersection.” The director adjusted his stance to lean into Dylan’s face. “Just stand there. Turn around slowly, let everyone see your suit, and then we’ll take you back. DOT’s got everything blocked off for half an hour, we just get five minutes. We shunt you there, you do the pose, we bring you back and our guys start handing out flyers. Clear?”

“Dude. I said.” For a moment, the model almost betrayed an emotion.

The director glared at him, then turned and started yelling for everyone to get into their places. Techs wheeled in the two halves of the Faraday Arclight cage and latched it around the suit model. The director gave the countdown, tremendous voltage was channeled to the cage, and Dylan was teleported to downtown Manhattan, translated from a height of 6’2″ to several hundred feet tall.

There was a sonic boom at Lexington and 42nd as a monstrously sized, well-dressed man displaced the air. Pedestrians in the immediate area collapsed, stunned, and the two hired teams of photographers struggled to regain their composure.

Dylan looked down at the tiny people, the small buildings around him. He laughed. “Fuck those guys,” he muttered, stepping briskly away from the intersection, away from where the Faraday Arclight was expecting to grab him in five minutes. His Oxfords crunched through a fleet of yellow cabs like so many cockroaches; he kicked out at the foot bridge from Pershing Square Plaza, watching tiny people spin through the air around his laces, sliding down the sides of his shoe.

Still laughing, he glanced around him: there was the Chrysler Building, but uglier than this was the MetLife building, and so he stretched his legs to climb over Grand Central Terminal and drew back his arm for the first blow.

[Image: Google Maps]

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