Editors Victoria (EdVic) Professional Development Officer Caroline Arnoul spoke with Nadine Davidoff about her upcoming workshop on point of view.
Editors Victoria: In February, you’ll be running a new two-part workshop for Editors Victoria on point of view in fiction and narrative nonfiction. What led you to develop this workshop?
Nadine Davidoff: Following the narrative nonfiction course that I ran for Editors Victoria in 2023, there was interest in a course that was more specialised rather than a general overview course – a deep dive into one particular aspect of editing. I’ve long been fascinated by how an author’s point of view choice influences the overall tone, mood and persuasiveness of a narrative.
I think it’s useful for editors to be attuned to the effects of point of view. Often, we read manuscripts and have a vague sense that something’s not working, and often point of view is the key to unlocking a narrative’s structural shortfalls.
EV: There are so many dimensions to editing you could have chosen to do a deep dive into. What made you choose point of view as the topic for this workshop?
ND: Point of view is so foundational. All stories are carried by narrative and all narrative is carried by point of view. It encompasses voice, it encompasses the position from which the story is being told, and it determines the tense of a narrative. A story can be told from the vantage point of its ending, or it can be told while the story is unfolding. And each of those choices will significantly impact the narrative. So, it seems to me that being attuned to how point of view inflects a narrative is an important skill for editors to bring to their work.
EV: What can an editor do to assist an author in improving point of view in their work?
ND: I think the work of an editor is to ask sharp and useful questions to the author; and spotlighting point of view often yields many useful insights into what might be ailing the manuscript. A shift in point of view, whether it’s from third to first, or from past tense to present tense, can significantly elevate the effectiveness and persuasiveness of a narrative.
Questions an editor might ask when considering point of view include:
- Is the chosen point of view the most effective way to tell the story?
- What is gained and what might be lost with the adoption of this narrative viewpoint?
- Does this narrative viewpoint do justice to the full dimensionality of the story, or does it constrain the author and therefore the text?
- Does the point of view choice serve the tone, pace and complexity of the story?
EV: Can you tell me a little bit more about what participants can expect to learn in this two-part workshop?
ND: We’re going to be looking at point of view from two editorial perspectives – a structural perspective as well as point of view on the line. We’ll be looking at how an author’s adoption of a particular point of view, whether it’s first, third or second, affects the voice and mood of the story. And we’ll also be looking at point of view at a sentence level. Sometimes an author can slip up by writing over the character or by introducing language and knowledge that is authorial rather than from within the narrating position. This ruptures the fictional world and makes the reader aware of the artifice of the story and its construction rather than being immersed in its world. So, we’ll be looking at how point of view slip-ups at the line level can impact the reader’s experience of the story and undermine the credibility of the book.
We’ll also be considering what kinds of stories are best served by a particular point of view choice, the pros and cons of each, and how the narrating position and voice impacts the reader. Editors can then advise authors on how their particular point of view choice is either benefiting the narrative or constraining it.
EV: You’ll be covering both fiction and narrative nonfiction in the workshop. Why have you chosen to cover both areas?
ND: Well, with memoir and narrative nonfiction, the point of view is most likely going to be first person, although I’ve read a few memoirs recently that are in second person. But point of view is just as important in narrative nonfiction as it is in fiction. In memoir and narrative nonfiction, the vantage point of the narrating voice often determines the complexity and density of the text. I also think it’s useful for editors to be aware that sometimes an author might be writing memoir from a place that’s too close to the events that are being described, and some narrative distance would grant them more perspective on the story.
EV: There’s a lot of discussion in the industry at the moment about AI and its impact on the future of editing. Is understanding the complexities of something like point of view a way that editors can futureproof their skills?
ND: In my view, the basis of all editorial responses to fiction or narrative nonfiction is: how did this story make me feel? How did I experience it? Needless to say, a machine can’t do that. Because we’re human, our bodies respond when we’re immersed in a story. And we should be attuned to how the story is affecting us on an emotional level. Where is the text landing in our bodies – in our hearts, in our guts? And especially with point of view, we need to be alert to the voice of the story and the teller of this tale. How are we responding to it? Do we believe it? Are we being moved by it? Or do we feel like it’s not touching us at all because there’s an indifference in the writing, a lack of honesty and urgency? To me, that emotional reaction forms the foundation of a deep and emotionally astute editorial response.
I think we read stories because we want to feel something, and the author has written the book because they want to engage the reader on that emotional level. So, an editor can best serve an author by ensuring that what the author intends for their book’s emotional journey is reflected on the page. A machine can’t have anything to say about a book’s emotional impact, or lack thereof.
EV: You’ve run many workshops for IPEd and Editors Victoria previously. Will people who’ve taken your previous workshops learn something new if they take this course?
ND: I’ve developed this workshop from scratch. There will be some crossover with material I’ve presented previously but I really did want to present something new. Point of view is something I’m very interested in, and this workshop reflects all my thinking on this subject. I hope it will offer something fresh and useful to the people who take it.
Editors note: this workshop is sold out. Please email Caroline Arnoul on firstname.lastname@example.org to be added to the waiting list. If there is sufficient demand, we may repeat the workshop.