Unlike other disciplines, which rely on the understanding of particular concepts and their subsequent application, it has proven much harder to break down writing in the same way. Although professional writing may sound distinctly more eloquent than amateur writing, time and time again, writers have failed to pinpoint exactly what makes for better writing. Furthermore, no one has ever dared to make a checklist for writing the perfect novel, and for good reason—there is no straightforward answer.
Despite the insurmountable task set before him, writer Christopher Castellani tackled this issue through his recent contribution to the “The Art of…” series. His novel, “The Art of Perspective: Who Tells the Story,” breaks down the impact that point of view has on the short story through the analysis of other author’s work.
On Tuesday, Jan. 26, in the Mandel Center for the Humanities, Castellani discussed his latest publication, with some insight into his extensive writing career. The author of three novels, all of which have received critical acclaim, includes titles like “A Kiss from Maddalena” and “All This Talk of Love.” He is the artistic director of Grub Street, which is a leading nonprofit writing center in the country, and also has a teaching background.
“The Art of Perspective” is anything but a manual or “how-to” book. Rather, it is a collection of writing that showcases the methods of various writers utilizing point of view for different ends. According to Castellani, however, there’s a lot more to it than just that: “Every story is ultimately about the narrator … and the way the story is told.” In his explanation about perspective, he put forth the idea that whatever point of view an author uses, there has to be a compelling reason for it. Otherwise, the basis of the story is nullified, so picking a random point of view does nothing to further the author’s creation.
As each book in “The Art of…” series investigates a different facet of writing, such as intimacy, poetic line, syntax and description, this one is specifically a meditation on the impact that varying perspectives have on a story. Castellani continues his meditation on this subject with, “Each novel or story has its own requirements … What do I want the reader to know, to understand … how can I tell that story?”
Castellani’s book incorporates writing by E.M. Forster, Grace Paley and Tayeb Salih among others, representing a diverse subset of writing techniques. In “The Art of Perspective” he uses this grouping of writers to analyze the way that other well-established novelists have grappled with the issue of perspective. A truly groundbreaking investigation despite its simplicity, Castellani delves into subject matter that is not talked about very often in most writing courses but that is still incredibly important.
According to Castellani, first person is, only naturally, the most intimate of the perspectives because it requires the reader to directly connect with the main character. Second person, on the other hand, is harder to gracefully grasp; it induces a sort of superficiality that only particular writers can sufficiently circumnavigate. Third person, on the other hand, often creates a certain distance between the reader and the character. However, this is no longer a problem when the writer directly inserts the subject of the action, instead of filtering the action through an intermediary. For example, instead of saying that someone saw something, it would be more effective to simply state that which that person saw. Depending on the desired effect, each of these various perspectives can be manipulated to incorporate the passage of time, give gravity to dialogue, add distance and increase the reader’s ability to connect with the main character.
As part of his presentation, Castellani went through a few examples of narration some of which he wrote himself and the others of which were not his own. Through this discussion he went through the effect that each of the various point of views had on the overall tone of the piece. Though it isn’t a hard science, there are definitely some advantages when authors use certain perspectives as opposed to others.
At the end of the talk, two copies of Castellani’s most recent book were raffled off to students in the audience, and other copies were sold at a very reduced rate.