Mentor Text Wednesday: From a Certain Point of View

Mentor Text:  ‘Vergence’ by Tracy Deonn From From a Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back

Techniques:

  • Point of View
  • Fan fiction as storytelling

Background – In our house, it is a Christmas tradition that everyone gets new jammies and a new book on Christmas Eve. This year, as requested, I unwrapped the Empire Strikes Back installment of the From a Certain Point of View series. In short, these anthologies take a look at the events of their respective Star Wars film from differing points of views, telling the story of the film through the eyes of minor characters.

So, yeah, I pretty much decided on the mentor text for this column on Christmas Eve.

As a proud geek, I have lots of books like these ones on my shelves. There are older Star Wars ones that focus more on expanding the world(s) featured in the stories. A quick scan of my shelves before I sat down to write this reminded me that Planet of The Apes, Alien and The X-Files have received similar treatment.

The thing I like most about the From a Certain Point of View books (at this point, only covering A New Hope and Empire) is the conceit that they aren’t expanding the universe per se, but focused instead upon embellishing the story of the films by recounting the events through someone else’s eyes. Droids, creatures, regular Rebels or Imperials talk about what they witness, and how they feel about the actions of the heroes and villains of the film I love. (It was hard to choose one to share with you, but ultimately, the book seemed to open itself to a piece from the perspective of the cave on Dagobah where Luke has his vision of the dark side and Vader.)

I just think we have a cool model here that we could use in our classrooms.

How We Might Use This Text:

Point of ViewStar Wars, especially the original trilogy, is a good place to work from as we explore POV. Arguably, these films focus on a few characters – a scrappy band of heroes in Luke, Han and Leia, and a couple of villains in Vader and the Emperor. We can simplify that, actually, as it really is mainly Luke’s story.

That being said, there are a lot of others around these core characters. We could, as many of these stories do, explore how others feel about the actions of the heroes. A couple of the stories refer to the pool that the Rebels on Hoth have going about Han and Leia’s relationship. The motives of many rank and file Imperial soldiers and officers are explored, giving us insights into the average stormtrooper, but a clearer look at the way that Vader uses fear as a motivating factor in his military forces.

In a universe rich with creatures and whatnot, these stories very creatively imagine a multitude of witnesses and participants in the events of the film. Creatures like the tauntauns and wampas on Hoth or the space slug that almost ate the Falcon tell their side of the story. Sentient technology such as droids, or the computer of the Falcon share the events of the film as they see them. It enriches the narrative of the film, and allows us to look at the narrative critically so that we can tell this different take on the story.

Using a different point of view, as we know, means we look at the narrative closely. What are the elements of the story that must remain a part of the stories we tell. We need to look at the film closely, looking for those other viewpoints. It allows us to look at the story critically – what questions do we feel we could address through another viewpoint? What doesn’t make sense that we can explain? Can we fill any plot holes with our own stories?

And we can do this with any text, focusing on key scenes. It strikes me that this would be a neat mix of analysis and creative expression. Imagine the possibilities as a group of students chose a scene from a text, looked for the various viewpoints it could be told from, and then wrote those pieces. Or if we chose a specific group who’s eyes we’d be viewing the events in the text. (I’ve recently come to the conclusion that droids are the most important characters in Star Wars, and would gladly read a series of stories focusing on their views of the events from the films.)

Fan Fiction as Storytelling – Admittedly, once you’ve got the official licensing rights, like these books do, you’re not technically writing fan fiction, many of the principles are the same. You’re using established characters to a tell a story that may not necessarily have been told already.

One of the things I like about this mentor text for our writers is that it gives us a lot to work with. Instead of starting with a fully blank page, these pieces begin with things that are already established. Core characters and events are developed already, giving young writers parameters to work within. I would think this could be especially beneficial for writers that struggle with generating initial ideas for their writing. I especially like the conceit of these particular pieces, the idea of retelling events from a different point of view – establishing plot points and character may serve many developing writers well, allowing them to focus on other aspects of craft because plot is largely taken care of.

As a reader, I love these books – new stories in my favorite fandoms are always welcome. I think using them as mentor texts would allow us many teachable moments. Aside from the obvious lessons about point of view, there are lessons about character development and world building. As well, the elements of analysis, and even criticism, make these rich texts to bring into a classroom. To say nothing of how cool it would be, as a student, to explore your favorite fandom in school.

What text would you like to see an anthology like this for? What point of view would you write if you were exploring one of your favorite texts?

Leave a comment below or find me on Twitter @doodlinmunkyboy!

1 Comment

  1. I am reading this book right now! I don’t think I have reached this particular story yet, but when I do, I’ll be re-reading this post! We were just discussing how a book like this is just fan fiction with an official license!

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