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The Art of Perspective: Who Tells the Story

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A writer may have a story to tell, a sense of plot, and strong characters, but for all of these to come together some key questions must be answered. What form should the narrator take? An omniscient, invisible force, or one--or more--of the characters? But in what voice, and from what vantage point? How to decide? Avoiding prescriptive instructions or arbitrary rules, Chr A writer may have a story to tell, a sense of plot, and strong characters, but for all of these to come together some key questions must be answered. What form should the narrator take? An omniscient, invisible force, or one--or more--of the characters? But in what voice, and from what vantage point? How to decide? Avoiding prescriptive instructions or arbitrary rules, Christopher Castellani brilliantly examines the various ways writers have solved the crucial point-of-view problem. By unpacking the narrative strategies at play in the work of writers as different as E. M. Forster, Grace Paley, and Tayeb Salih, among many others, he illustrates how the author's careful manipulation of distance between narrator and character drives the story. An insightful work by an award-winning novelist and the artistic director of GrubStreet, The Art of Perspective is a fascinating discussion on a subject of perpetual interest to any writer.


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A writer may have a story to tell, a sense of plot, and strong characters, but for all of these to come together some key questions must be answered. What form should the narrator take? An omniscient, invisible force, or one--or more--of the characters? But in what voice, and from what vantage point? How to decide? Avoiding prescriptive instructions or arbitrary rules, Chr A writer may have a story to tell, a sense of plot, and strong characters, but for all of these to come together some key questions must be answered. What form should the narrator take? An omniscient, invisible force, or one--or more--of the characters? But in what voice, and from what vantage point? How to decide? Avoiding prescriptive instructions or arbitrary rules, Christopher Castellani brilliantly examines the various ways writers have solved the crucial point-of-view problem. By unpacking the narrative strategies at play in the work of writers as different as E. M. Forster, Grace Paley, and Tayeb Salih, among many others, he illustrates how the author's careful manipulation of distance between narrator and character drives the story. An insightful work by an award-winning novelist and the artistic director of GrubStreet, The Art of Perspective is a fascinating discussion on a subject of perpetual interest to any writer.

30 review for The Art of Perspective: Who Tells the Story

  1. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    I keep going back to this craft book to remind myself that there is no right answer. Only the best answer for now. "A story—a novel, in particular—is an imperfect thing. So in the end, is a narrative strategy, no matter how airtight it appears, how neatly form and content complicate and complement each other." I keep going back to this craft book to remind myself that there is no right answer. Only the best answer for now. "A story—a novel, in particular—is an imperfect thing. So in the end, is a narrative strategy, no matter how airtight it appears, how neatly form and content complicate and complement each other."

  2. 5 out of 5

    Crystal King

    If you are a writer, get this book ASAP. Castellani is brilliant and this book is a serious gem for any writer looking to understand point of view and writing perspective.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Sharon

    For anyone who loves to write, for anyone who loves to read about writing, this book is a pearl. Using a wide range of texts, from E.R. Forster, Nabokov & Dostoyevsky, to Grace Paley, Lorrie Moore and Virginia Woolf (and everything in between), Chris Castellani examines and illuminates choices of narrator, what effect each one has, what makes different perspectives successful or not for different stories, all in a clever and entertaining fashion. It is a MUST READ for any writer on an essential For anyone who loves to write, for anyone who loves to read about writing, this book is a pearl. Using a wide range of texts, from E.R. Forster, Nabokov & Dostoyevsky, to Grace Paley, Lorrie Moore and Virginia Woolf (and everything in between), Chris Castellani examines and illuminates choices of narrator, what effect each one has, what makes different perspectives successful or not for different stories, all in a clever and entertaining fashion. It is a MUST READ for any writer on an essential topic of great storytelling, written by a fabulous storyteller.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Kara

    I was taking this book with me everywhere, reading it over breakfasts, at lunch, on the train, thoroughly engaged by just how excited Castellani got about the subject matter - about as far from dry, academic text as you can get, so I’m reading and re-reading, flipping back and forth and skipping around the many different ways to approach Story and how to tell it. And then – and then! Reading on the train, getting off at my stop, barely pausing in my read, the book leaped – leaped! – no, it wasn’ I was taking this book with me everywhere, reading it over breakfasts, at lunch, on the train, thoroughly engaged by just how excited Castellani got about the subject matter - about as far from dry, academic text as you can get, so I’m reading and re-reading, flipping back and forth and skipping around the many different ways to approach Story and how to tell it. And then – and then! Reading on the train, getting off at my stop, barely pausing in my read, the book leaped – leaped! – no, it wasn’t because I had a t-pass in one hand and a cell phone in the other while also juggling the straps of lunch bag, purse and laptop bag, no! – the book darted away, throwing itself in a perfect vertical dive down the narrow gap between train and platform, and was gone forever in the inky darkness, away from me, never to return to my grasping fingers. So whose story was that? Me or the book? There’s irony for you. OK, so, To Do list, one, I have to report to the library their book is gone, and two, must buy a new copy for myself.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Alissa Hattman

    This is an excellent book for writers considering who tells the story and at what distance. I particularly appreciated that Castellani talks about power and the politics of perspective. His writing is warm and insightful and he provides thoughtful examples on point-of-view from E.M. Foster, Grace Paley, Tayeb Salih, Lorrie Moore, and others. A wonderful craft book.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Robert Wechsler

    a perfect book to get one thinking about the which and how of narration. It answers no questions, which is appropriate to this issue.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jason

    Part literary criticism, part craft book. I couldn't put this book down. Part literary criticism, part craft book. I couldn't put this book down.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Angela Boyd

    This book really helped me think about the nuance of perspective - how the narrator can stand alone, how the narrator can fuse with characters. This is the thing I’ve been struggling with in my novel-in-progress and while I’ve had no epiphanies, I do feel closer to figuring out how this needs to work for these particular characters in this particular project.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Lynne Griffin

    Lots of insight in this special little book. Part of the Graywolf "the art of series" edited by Charles Baxter. Chris Castellani does a terrific job broadening the writer's understanding of point of view. Lots of insight in this special little book. Part of the Graywolf "the art of series" edited by Charles Baxter. Chris Castellani does a terrific job broadening the writer's understanding of point of view.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Linda

    This was an interesting little read. I read it all in one sitting. But that's not to say that there were not some deep thoughts here. The author uses several works to illustrate the idea of perspective, from Howard's End to The Things They Carried. It is not just point of view, but he talks about narrators and the idea of separating a narrator from an author, breaking the fourth wall, switching point of view, clues to point of view in the text, and how some authors can pull off what John Gardner This was an interesting little read. I read it all in one sitting. But that's not to say that there were not some deep thoughts here. The author uses several works to illustrate the idea of perspective, from Howard's End to The Things They Carried. It is not just point of view, but he talks about narrators and the idea of separating a narrator from an author, breaking the fourth wall, switching point of view, clues to point of view in the text, and how some authors can pull off what John Gardner calls a faux pas. The decision of WHO tells the story is perhaps one of the most important that an author will make, and this explains very well how this can change even from book to book with the same author. I enjoyed most of the examples, even if I have not read all the works (does anyone teach Faulkner any more?). Here are a few nuggets that I found to be helpful: Every narrator becomes the story, and the story becomes him. It is only and always his. p8 Narration is perspective in action. It is the "delivering" of perspective to the reader or listener. p9 If perspective is a way of seeing, and narration is perspective in action, then a narrative strategy is the how and the why of that seeing. p16 Often, an unlikable character "fails" not because he lacks winning qualities, but because he's not a good narrator. Unlikability, then, is the narrative strategy that misfires, if not from the start, then somewhere along the way. p102 The writer's goal is not to derive comfort from the trek across the sea and up the mountain, but to document that view with honesty and integrity once she gets there. In other words, to use the tools of craft to tell the story with as much urgency and insight and style and depth as she can. In that telling is, of course, where the art of perspective lies. p134 ... who tells the story is often vulturous. He feeds on misery and complications as much on connection and revelation. She's always looking for the point of entry and the point of no return, the moment of transformation and of (self-)destruction. His honesty can be both ruthless and generous at once. You can't trust him one bit, especially if you believe him. p136 If you are looking for a focused craft book, and you are wrestling or even thinking about point of view or perspective, this might be worth checking out. Further reading: John Gardner, The Art of Fiction

  11. 5 out of 5

    M.C. Easton

    A helpful tour of perspective as a literary technique, Castellani’s slender volume argues that there is no perfect point-of-view choice in a literary work. Rather, it’s always a question of the writer’s goal—to locate the individual within the societal, or to immerse the reader within the individual—and whether their narrator(s) support this overarching “narrative strategy.” Ranging from E. M. Forster to Grace Paley, from Lorrie Moore to Faulkner, Castellani reflects on his own struggles as a ga A helpful tour of perspective as a literary technique, Castellani’s slender volume argues that there is no perfect point-of-view choice in a literary work. Rather, it’s always a question of the writer’s goal—to locate the individual within the societal, or to immerse the reader within the individual—and whether their narrator(s) support this overarching “narrative strategy.” Ranging from E. M. Forster to Grace Paley, from Lorrie Moore to Faulkner, Castellani reflects on his own struggles as a gay writer to settle on narrators, perspective, and narrative strategy—and examines the political power and responsibility of these choices. Although he revisits and analyzes some of my favorite authors in rewarding ways, I never quite caught onto his own organizational strategy or figured out why, exactly, these particular works were thrown together in this particular order. A pleasant stroll through works where the narration excels, it ended before it really started getting somewhere.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kirsten

    Such a sophisticated consideration of perspective. I was a little nervous to read another book on reading/writing so close after finishing George Saunders's A SWIM IN A POND IN THE RAIN, since I went so totally gaga for that, but I thought this was excellent too. Castellani doesn't romp around ecstatically pointing out wonders the way Saunders so winningly does, yet his eloquence and insights, too, clearly issue from both heart and mind. Castellani, like Saunders, conveys an openness and modesty Such a sophisticated consideration of perspective. I was a little nervous to read another book on reading/writing so close after finishing George Saunders's A SWIM IN A POND IN THE RAIN, since I went so totally gaga for that, but I thought this was excellent too. Castellani doesn't romp around ecstatically pointing out wonders the way Saunders so winningly does, yet his eloquence and insights, too, clearly issue from both heart and mind. Castellani, like Saunders, conveys an openness and modesty that make me all the more glad to learn from him. I particularly love the beginning chapter, where he considers the very different narrative strategies of two Forster novels, HOWARDS END and A PASSAGE TO INDIA, and then later in the book, I love both his anecdote about Grace Paley, and his celebration of her work.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    This is a short book focusing on narration. I think it's interesting to reflect on who tells stories, and how who tells stories affects the story itself. The author uses literary examples as a way to illustrate different methods of perspective telling, in a helpful manner (you don't have to be familiar with the book he is using to illustrate something, but it is helpful if you are familiar). One of my favorite characteristics is the way the book illustrates how a good story trumps flaws of a mor This is a short book focusing on narration. I think it's interesting to reflect on who tells stories, and how who tells stories affects the story itself. The author uses literary examples as a way to illustrate different methods of perspective telling, in a helpful manner (you don't have to be familiar with the book he is using to illustrate something, but it is helpful if you are familiar). One of my favorite characteristics is the way the book illustrates how a good story trumps flaws of a morally flawed narrator. If you are interested in writing or human stories, I would spend a weekend reading this book.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth Higginbotham

    The Art of Perspective by Christopher Castellani gives writers much to think about as he approaches the issue of point of view. Who is the person telling the story? I read three of Castellani’s novels, so I know he can shape a story. The insights are powerful in terms of consider how to approach writing. It is not just first, second or third person, but the voice you selected. It takes work to identify how one wants to share how they see the world. It took a while to read it, but I did finish it The Art of Perspective by Christopher Castellani gives writers much to think about as he approaches the issue of point of view. Who is the person telling the story? I read three of Castellani’s novels, so I know he can shape a story. The insights are powerful in terms of consider how to approach writing. It is not just first, second or third person, but the voice you selected. It takes work to identify how one wants to share how they see the world. It took a while to read it, but I did finish it during a long plane ride. Castellani uses many examples from familiar and new writers, which means you can read some of the examples.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Sandra

    If I were to recommend one book to read out of The Art of series, Perspective would be a top choice. Castellani wrestles us through a variety of narrative strategies in published works that show “who tells the story” is not always an easy determination. He warns us readers may not know how but will know if a narrator to the story is off kilter. While craft choices are not easy, he also encourages writers to take risks. “The big problem is that, of all the crimes a writer can commit, playing it s If I were to recommend one book to read out of The Art of series, Perspective would be a top choice. Castellani wrestles us through a variety of narrative strategies in published works that show “who tells the story” is not always an easy determination. He warns us readers may not know how but will know if a narrator to the story is off kilter. While craft choices are not easy, he also encourages writers to take risks. “The big problem is that, of all the crimes a writer can commit, playing it safe is among the most unforgiveable” (p. 135).

  16. 5 out of 5

    Quinn da Matta

    I have always struggled with books that tackle the art of writing, that try to dissect and teach the craft because they always read like outdated textbooks. But, this is one of the few that reads—and feels—like a friendly conversation with a successful friend. There are great gems of wisdom and wonderful moments of insight, and it’s all expressed in a very relatable and easy to read, style that made learning about perspective enjoyable.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Elissa

    This is not my favorite book on perspective. There is some great discussion of perspective in a Lorrie Moore short story collection midway through, but that's after a really lengthy discussion of E.M. Forster, which, to me, misses the point of more contemporary writing. Perspective is such a vivid and powerful tool for use in 21st century writing, that I think this book misses the mark by not talking about more recent progression in what makes voice powerful in writing today. I was disappointed This is not my favorite book on perspective. There is some great discussion of perspective in a Lorrie Moore short story collection midway through, but that's after a really lengthy discussion of E.M. Forster, which, to me, misses the point of more contemporary writing. Perspective is such a vivid and powerful tool for use in 21st century writing, that I think this book misses the mark by not talking about more recent progression in what makes voice powerful in writing today. I was disappointed to not have any/many aha's while reading. It's still a great book, and recommended, but not my top recommendation for this topic.

  18. 4 out of 5

    D.

    I thought it was an interesting read. Don't read it if you're looking for an instructional book. This book analyzes the different ways writers use pov (point of view) to progress the narrative and develop it by looking at specific texts. I'm working through the entire series (the ones relating to fiction/nonfiction anyway). It was good. I'd recommend it. I thought it was an interesting read. Don't read it if you're looking for an instructional book. This book analyzes the different ways writers use pov (point of view) to progress the narrative and develop it by looking at specific texts. I'm working through the entire series (the ones relating to fiction/nonfiction anyway). It was good. I'd recommend it.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Steven

    A sometimes humourous, sometimes academic view in the role of narrator and perspective in writing. While geared towards novels and short stories and a little sluggish in the first third, I was pleasantly surprised but the shift to less known literature and plays (Angels In America) in the last bit. A fascinating examination of writing indeed.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Matt Sautman

    Castellani provides here an easily digestible text on point of view that can provide a basis for scholars who engage in literary criticism and creative writers who are interested in having a stronger understanding of their craft. The Art of Perspective’s strength lies in Castellani’s ability to gesture towards narration’s affect on readers.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Libre Livre

    This was absolutely fantastic. I have no words. Or rather, I’ll save them for my own pages. This has been a slow companion read for me, and will be a gift for any writer who makes the time for it and the work.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Nic

    Not as good as some of the others in The Art of....series.

  23. 5 out of 5

    James

    A brilliant discussion of how to choose and use perspective in storytelling. A must for all existing and inspiring writers.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Goldhagen

    Good introduction! Too short (but that's the format), still, it's a lively read and quite insightful. A good introduction to a complex topic. Good introduction! Too short (but that's the format), still, it's a lively read and quite insightful. A good introduction to a complex topic.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Goldhagen

    My favorite Art of yet!

  26. 5 out of 5

    Charlie Quimby

    A quick and useful read but supplemental on the topic, not essential.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Billy Colley

    A brief look at perspective highlighting some interesting examples from some fantastic authors. There isn't a lot of specific knowledge imparted, but what is there is well reinforced with examples. A brief look at perspective highlighting some interesting examples from some fantastic authors. There isn't a lot of specific knowledge imparted, but what is there is well reinforced with examples.

  28. 5 out of 5

    James Smith

    60% | okay (B-)

  29. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    What a great craft book. It’s so intelligent and never preachy but instead reflective and thoughtful. Highly recommend!

  30. 4 out of 5

    Whitney Borup

    Wonderful - and it reminded me to read more Lorrie Moore.

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