Trace Evidence of an Author: Point of View, Purpose, and Voice
In many ways, Locard’s Exchange Principle is the bedrock of modern forensic science. According to Locard, when two things come into contact with each other, like a suspect and a crime scene, they transfer materials. This explains why a suspect leaves behind trace evidence like fingerprints, hair, and fibers from their clothes while picking up tell-tale mud on their boots.
When we write, a similar exchange takes place. As authors, we leave fingerprints all over our work, especially in the purpose we choose, the point of view we take, and the voice we pick. Don’t believe me? Grab your tweezers and magnifying glass and let’s analyze the evidence.
Author’s purpose and point of view
The first, and perhaps, obvious way writers leave traces of themselves is through their purpose and point of view. Two authors writing about the same subject may have different purposes. The first may want to persuade you, while the other wants to inform. Even if two authors have the same purpose, their approach to the subject (in other words, their point of view) is as unique as their DNA. This includes what facts they choose to include or leave out and the conclusions they draw from the evidence.
Let’s take a closer look: This month’s book list features two books about the discovery of the Kennewick Man, a 9,000-year-old skeleton found on the banks of the Columbia River in Washington: MYSTERIOUS BONES by Katherine Kirkpatrick (illustrated by Emma Stevenson) and THEIR SKELETONS SPEAK by Sally M. Walker and Douglas W. Owsley. As an exercise, read the jacket flap copy and study the table of contents for each book. What does each tell you about the author’s purpose and point of view? Do the authors cover exactly the same topics or do you see a difference? Do you think their purpose and points of view are the same? If not, how do you think they will differ? Does one point of view more closely match your own?
Authors also leave traces of themselves in terms of the voice they choose for a piece of writing. Is the voice humorous? Poetic? Energetic? Formal? Informal? The voice should help the author achieve their purpose and communicate their point of view. Try this activity: Compare a paragraph from MORE ONE-HOUR MYSTERIES (Mary Ann Carr) with Carla Mooney’s FORENSICS: UNCOVER THE SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY OF CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATION. How would you label the voice of each? What elements of the writing led you to that choice? Hint: Look at things like word choice, punctuation, length of sentences. More informal or humorous voice might rely on shorter sentences, more exclamation points, and more informal language.
Your Author Fingerprints
Now, look at a piece of your own nonfiction writing. What’s your purpose and point of view? How would you describe your voice? Why? Is your voice a good match for your purpose and point of view? If not, pick another voice and revise your work.
And don’t forget, Locard’s Exchange Principle is a two-way street. Even if a piece of writing doesn’t work out the first time, every time we write we pick up new skills. That means all our writing leaves its imprint on us, helping us develop and grow as writers.
Kirsten W. Larson used to work with rocket scientists at NASA. Now she writes books for curious kids. She’s the author of WOOD, WIRE, WINGS: EMMA LILIAN TODD INVENTS AN AIRPLANE, illustrated by Tracy Subisak (Calkins Creek, February 2020), CECILIA PAYNE: MAKING OF A STAR (SCIENTIST), illustrated by Katherine Roy (Chronicle, Fall 2021), along with 25 other nonfiction books for kids. Find her at kirsten-w-larson.com or on Twitter/Instagram @KirstenWLarson.
THE O.O.L.F. FILES
This month, the Out Of Left Field (O.O.L.F.) Files provides links to learn more about forensic science, voice choice, and much more.
- Learn more about Locard’s Exchange Principle at Science Struck.
- The Crime Museum is another fun place to explore Locard’s Exchange Principle and related topics.
- Need some help deciphering voice? Melissa Stewart has one of the best videos around about The Voice Choice in writing.
- Looking for some online brain teasers and mysteries for your students? Check out Squigly’s Playhouse.
- One-Stop English has a fun “murder in the classroom” mystery activity for students.