Why You Should Consider The Art of Perspective


Cover for The Art of Perspective from Greywolf Press

The Art of Perspective: Who Tells the Story, by Christopher Castellani, is a quick and conversational look at perspective in fiction, exploring point of view, narration, and even the psychology of storytelling.

My framework for writing advice includes two major types of books on writing: the abstract/theory based, and the prescriptive/technique based. Most advice can be broken down in those categories, and some of the best books on writing (especially for beginners) balance the two. The Art of Perspective falls squarely in the category of abstract/theory focus. This means that while Castellani does give examples of what he’s describing, much of the work on writing is done at a philosophical level. By the end of the book, Castellani even admits, “There is no shortage of excellent writing adviceā€¦And surely you’ve noticed I haven’t offered much of it.” (129) This is because the purpose of this book is not to offer a beginner with clear, actionable steps forward, but to challenge more experienced writers to explore what narrative means, what a narrator is, and the myriad of ways that perspective can be manipulated in service to a story.

Each chapter of Perspective unfolds from an idea; opening with the search for a narrative strategy, continuing on to understand different types of narrators and what they do, and using illustrative examples from well-known authors such as Lorrie Moore and Tim O’Brien. The chapters meander like a conversation with a skilled writer trying to make sense of the intuitive in the hopes of passing along some of their magic. Because the book is short, the conversation isn’t difficult to follow if you’re willing to allow yourself to pause and absorb the points Castellani makes. Overall, the foundational value of Perspective is in exploring the overlap of identity and narrative strategy–both for the implied author, and the narrator.

I would recommend The Art of Perspective to writers who feel limited by more conventional approaches that define point of view and tense. If you’ve already memorized every type of point of view from first person minor all the way out to third person omniscient, this book will take you on an abstract journey that may help you get a better sense of how you can complicate and maneuver perspective beyond easily defined terms.

I would not recommend this book for new writers who are just starting to get a handle on point of view or are looking for more actionable practice.

The Art of is a series of writing books by Greywolf Press, each written by a different prominent literary author and formatted like a conversation in book form. Each installment is around 100 to 200 pages, with Perspective clocking in at 136 pages before acknowledgements. Castellani is a literary writer who is currently the artistic director of Grub Street, an independent creative writing center in Boston. His fiction has won literary awards and granted him fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the MacDowell Colony, and the Massachusetts Cultural Council. You can learn more about Christopher Castellani here, and you can find The Art of Perspective: Who Tells The Story on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or wherever fine books are sold.

This is the first in a series of posts, where I explore writing resources. This is not a review of whether or not I liked a particular resource, but rather a look at what a particular resource is and how it might be beneficial to different writers.

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