One of the tasks in the A215 workbook asks you to write the same scene in three different forms of viewpoint. We had to post this exercise for our online tutorial. I was quite happy with the result, and think the short narrative could develop into a short story. Will leave it to fester in my mind for a while before attempting the longer story. But here’s the exercise, with three forms of narrative viewpoint.
1) Third person limited omniscience
So here she was again, outside the Headmaster’s office. As soon as his secretary had walked into the classroom, she had known it was for her. Her heart had been beating harder ever since, a mixture of the fear of reprisal for what she had done and the thrill of everyone now knowing it was her that had done it. It was the talk of the school – who had taken the video of the headmaster having sex with the head girl in the kitchen late one night, and posted it on YouTube?
The door opened and the head stood there, his piggy little eyes staring at her, his disgusting old man cheeks even redder than usual, the flabby bits where his face met his neck looking particularly gross. She couldn’t imagine how any woman to bear to have him touch her, never mind the whole, you know. And a girl half his age? That was just sick.
“Penny Morgan, get in here this minute.”
She stood slowly and looked at him. She saw the fear, knew in that instant that she had the upper hand. Whatever she had done, he had done a lot worse.
“I’m not coming in there alone with you” she said. “I have a right to a witness.”
“You have no rights here, Miss Morgan.” He spoke her name like it was a bit of tin-foil he had eaten, an excruciating sensation to be removed as soon as possible.
She said nothing, just looked at him. If she won this, she would win the whole thing. She shifted her weight onto her other hip and crossed her arms, her eyes never leaving his. Bring it on, she thought. This ends now.
b) 3rd person omniscience
Penny Morgan was one of those people whose face told her thoughts as loudly as if they were spoken. As she sat on the chair outside the headmaster’s office, that face depicted a mixture of trepidation and confidence. In the greatest tradition of investigative reporting, her wrong-doing had unveiled a greater wrong and that gave her the upper hand.
Behind the door, the headmaster sat slumped over his desk, staring down, as he had been doing for the last twenty minutes. However much he tried, he couldn’t see a way out of this situation that wasn’t going to cost him at least his job, probably his marriage, maybe even his freedom. Could you go to jail for a breach of trust like sleeping with your head-girl? His insides constricted at the very thought. His tormentor was outside. He had one chance to get this right and save his career. He moved to the door, took what he hoped was a calming deep breath, and opened.
She stood and turned, and they looked at each other, man and girl, accused and accuser, prey and hunter. Nothing was said, no-one moved, but a lot was happening. As their gazes held, she somehow sensed his fear. He had nowhere to go.
“Penny Morgan, get in here this minute,” he blustered, but it was too little too late.
“I’m not coming in there alone with you,” she said, the very picture of stroppy teenage self-righteousness. “I have a right to a witness”.
“You have no rights here, Miss Morgan,” he returned, but there was no fire behind his words. No real intent. They were the last growls of a dying dog.
c) 3rd person objective
Penny Morgan sat in the wooden-panelled corridor, oozing teenage defiance: slouched down in the regulation plastic chair, finger twirling a stray strand of hair, legs crossed, foot bouncing up and down. Though maybe the hand in her hair trembled slightly, the bounce was a little too quick to be devil-may-care.
Behind the solid wooden door, the scene was very different. The man in the office sat slumped over his desk. He was flushed, his hair in disarray as if he had been running his hands through it. He bore all the marks of a bad night’s sleep – heavy shadows under his eyes, lines on his forehead.
Slowly he rose and moved to the door. His hand rested on the heavy round door-knob, but he didn’t turn it, pausing first to take a deep breath, and physically growing in the act of inhaling.
He opened the door and took a combative stance in the doorway, hands on hips, legs apart.
“Penny Morgan, get in here this minute.” The tone was trying to be authoritative, but contained the faintest tremor. The seconds stretched to breaking point as the girl slowly uncrossed her legs, eased herself from the chair and turned to look at him. Their gazes clashed, warring with each other. Finally the girl spoke.
“I’m not coming in there alone with you. I have a right to a witness.” In contrast to the older man, her voice was steady, clear, calm.
“You have no rights here, Miss Morgan” he spat out, still holding her gaze. Their body language cried out in the silence – the girl, defiant, shifting her weight and crossing her arms, moving into what was surely a deliberately provocative pose, while the man stood in his doorway, not moving from its protection, deflating imperceptibly like a tyre with a slow puncture.