Ancles Of Approach And Points Of View

The business of point of view seems to confuse most of us when we begin getting serious about our writing. Much of the explanation in textbooks does more to confuse than clarify. Part of any confusion comes from the several different meanings of the phrase "point of view." Everyone, in casual conversation, will say something like, "Well, that's her point of view; mine's quite different!" or "Everyone has his own viewpoint on that," or, close to that phrase, "What's your view on this, John?" All these variations express the notion that where you stand affects your view—a metaphor that gives us an image of someone, say a military scout, standing atop a rocky point and saying: "From my vantage point I believe we've already lost the battle or are about to, General." The general, from his point of view down in the forest, had thought everything was going well. Now, seeing things through the eyes of his scout, he has to reconsider. These meanings of point of view are similar to the meanings used by writers, but the student of writing must set those aside and concentrate on the several meanings the phrase has within the literary world. It's hard enough to keep the following two literary distinctions clear without also carrying along the informal meanings used in casual conversation.

AngLes of Approach

A story's angle of approach does not concern itself with who tells the story (the concern of point of view) but rather with how the writer approaches it. That approach can be either objective or subjective.


When you sit down to write a piece you must first decide whether to write from an objective or subjective angle of approach. The decision is crucial because the angle of approach determines to a great degree what kinds of facts should be included and what should be considered irrelevant and therefore left out.

If you were writing as a military strategist, for example, you would adopt an objective angle of approach and include how many bombs dropped on the city. You might well include how many civilians died as a result of the bombing. You would not, however, include descriptions of the children dying in the streets as the bombs fell. In a larger sense, such facts are important and relevant, but when the angle of approach is objective, the facts of how horribly the children died are not relevant. Given the same situation, if you were writing as a psychologist, how the children and their parents suffered would be relevant (and therefore included), but the facts about how many bombs of what kind fell that night would be viewed as irrelevant. Judgments and opinions have no place in a piece with an objective angle of approach. They belong in works using a subjective angle of approach.


Given the same bombing scene, a man who had been an ambulance worker might later write an article about the experience using a subjective angle of approach. If so, his descriptions would not only be vivid, they'd likely be emotional. He would write about his own emotions when he slid the injured children into the back of the

118 / writiNg creAtive nonfiction ambulance, and he might describe the emotional responses of the parents as the ambulance rushes, sirens blaring, to the hospital. Chances are that an ambulance worker would not write in the same article about the Eighth Air Force's bombing strategy against the cities of western Germany; that would be a more objective than subjective approach.

Scientists or other specialists writing an article (especially an expository one) about their specialty will usually write in an objective (impersonal) voice. The voice is impersonal in that the specialist will probably not introduce his or her personal feelings on the subject and won't tell readers how to feel about the subject. Sometimes we can read between the lines and sense personal feelings, but nothing is said directly—the writer using the objective approach doesn't deliberately make him or herself the focus of the article or insert personal reactions or attitudes.

Consistency of approach is important for both the reader and the writer. If a writer switches back and forth between impersonal and personal, the reader will become confused. A writer of creative nonfiction will be apt to write with a personal voice, which is all right, provided it is consistent. Given the example of the bombing raid, consider the confusion caused by the military strategist who changes his or her angle of approach in the middle of a narrative and begins describing the horrors of war (i.e., a shift to a subjective approach). Think of the confusion caused by the psychologist-writer who interrupts a cogent discussion of the mental damage suffered by the dead children's parents to go on at some length about how many tons of bombs fell, from what kind of aircraft, and at what intervals. What is relevant for one specialist is irrelevant for the other, yet their angle of approach is the same—objective.

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