Same scene different points of view

25 04 2007

Limited Omniscience –

Tony watches his wife Nancy as they get ready to go out. Tonight they will celebrate their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.

There are clothes all over the bed. Every item of women’s clothing you could imagine. And shoes all
over the floor. Why do women always take so long to get ready?

The cufflinks are irritating and his shirt collar feels too tight. He looks at his wife. She’s trying on one thing after another. When did she put on so much weight? She was a slim girl when they got married. There’s a photo of them on the dressing table and he remembers how devastatingly beautiful she was on their wedding day. That waist. Those pert breasts. He could barely keep his hands off her at the church.

He looks at himself in the mirror. Not too bad for forty-five. Could do with losing a few pounds and the hairline isn’t what it used to be but Nancy still loves him. They’ve had some good times though. Even if she put on twice as much weight he would still want to spend the next twenty five years with her.

Finally it seems she is ready. There’s something different about her tonight that he can’t quite put his finger on. She gives him a twirl.

‘How do I look?’ she asks. Her face is radiant and she is smiling.

Even after all these years he never knows what the correct response is for that question. You tell a woman they look great they either think you are lying or they start to contradict you and you end up spending the rest of the night telling them exactly why they look great. But if you say nothing they think they look ugly. And he’s hungry.

‘You look fine’ he says.

On the way to the restaurant he can’t help but notice she seems very quiet.

Omniscient –

Tom and Nancy are getting ready to go out. Nancy is pouring over the entire contents of her wardrobe. She wants to look her best tonight, of all nights, but is struggling to find something that still fits. It has been a long time since they went for dinner together with it being such a special occasion she wants make sure she looks beautiful. She has already spent a small fortune on a haircut and manicure and hopes Tony will notice the difference.

Tony is uncomfortable in his suit and tie and fiddles self consciously with his cufflinks. He has never understood why women take so long to get ready. He watches his wife as she dresses and wonders how she managed to put on so much weight. He can’t help but compare her to how slim and beautiful she was when they first married. He wonders if he should say something but thinks better of it. He would love her even if she was twice as big again. He checks himself in the mirror and realises he’s not exactly twenty any more either.

Nancy has tried on half her clothes but finally finds an outfit she is satisfied with. She smooths down her skirt and spins around on the spot to show Tony. She hopes he approves.

‘How do I look?’ she asks.

‘You look fine’ he says.

She wonders why this is not what she hoped to hear. He is smiling after all. She’s sure he loves her but in that moment she can’t help but wonder if there something going on with him and his new young secretary.

They leave the house and head for the restaurant where they will celebrate being married for twenty five years.


Tony and Nancy McVeigh are in their bedroom getting ready to go out. The bed is covered in what appears to be the entire contents of Nancy’s wardrobe. There are sparkly tops; turquoise blouses; dresses going back a decade or more. A multitude of shoes are sprawled across the floor. Tony is almost ready. He fiddles with his cufflinks and adjusts the collar on his shirt. He looks at his wife as she pulls off one top and struggles to pull on another. Her face looks all of her 44 years as she huffs and squeezes into the too small garment. She sighs; pulls it off again and standing in her bra and skirt ponders over the warbrobe-spewed contents of the bed.

He looks at the roll of fat hanging over the top of her skirt and her breasts sagging in her bra. And then looks at the photograph of them together on the dressing table. The photo is of a young, smiling couple. A nineteen year old Nancy is wearing a full length white dress and the twenty-year old version of himself has his arm tight around her nipped in waistline. He checks his reflection in the mirror; pulling in his stomach as he does so and glances down at his wedding ring.

Finally, she finds the look she was hoping for and with a flourish spins round on the spot. She is holding her breathe and pulling back her shoulders to give him the best view she can.

‘What do you think?’ she says

‘You look fine.’ he says but with a look that implies he means ‘acceptable’ rather than exquisite or elegant.

She looks in the mirror and then looks at the dressing table photo of the bride that she once was.

She sighs and her shoulders fall.

They leave for the restaurant and celebrate being married for twenty five years.

I found this exercise very tricky. I actually started with the objective (neutral fly on the wall) point of view but discovered it was very difficult to convey emotions without resorting to lots of dialogue. And even then it’s harder to get the meaning without getting into someone’s head! The objects in the room took on more significance.

I found omniscient quite tricky too as my brain found it harder to focus on each character. It would be even harder with more than a couple of characters but was useful in that you can give a deeper idea of the emotions of the scene.

My favourite was limited omniscience. It allowed me to speak through Tony and gave him more of a voice, though of course we only get his view of Nancy.




One response

25 04 2007

i think i would have started that way too, first describing the whole setting neutrally, then getting into the characters. i would have liked to read nancy’s view on the scene, too.
like in your previous post with the same setting, different moods, i find it amazing how you can make readers sympathize with one or the other of the characters, to catch their mood, see through their eyes.
i’m absolutely not a writer, i’m happy if i can find the right words to express myself in a foreign language, but i love to read and it fascinates me how sometimes a story draws me in, and sometimes it leaves me unmoved. it’s not just about a good story, but it needs a good writer, too.
i think you’re very talented.

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