WWW: It's a Matter of Perspective

>> Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Yep, it's that time. Time for a writing exercise and thought exercise, all rolled into one. In this case, I thought I'd talk about perspective, also known as point of view (POV). One thing I love about writing is the opportunity to put on a different POV.

There are a dozen different ways to do POV and a dozen dozen rules for all that: first person, third person, third person omniscient, yada yada yada. Since I don't like the rules, per se, and they seem contradictory to the vast majority of the books I've loved over my life, I don't sweat it. I'm not an English teacher and, in fact, tested out of my college English, so I'm not going to teach you textbook writing or English. (Don't hate me, Shakespeare). In fact, I like to think of this as more like a coffee clache for writers as opposed to a "class"(except that I don't drink coffee). So, if you want the rules, you're in luck because there are gillions of people out there eager to tell you what rules you're breaking. I just won't be one of them as long as it works. Of course, that's a whole other blog post - maybe next week.

Nope, when I talk perspective, I'm telling you that writing is an opportunity to put on someone else's shoes, walk their walk and talk their talk. Not only to wander about in someone else's skin, but to give your readers an opportunity to do the same. If you do it right, you can expand both your horizons.

In my opinion, too many writers don't take the opportunity to take advantage of perspective. Many books are written from the perspective of a character, but it's just a vehicle for the story. They don't tell you what about that character makes the perspective worth while. They often scrub off the prejudices and thought processes, the unique twists that could give that perspective color and, through those eyes, color to the other characters.

The ability to make someone alive and sympathetic, particularly someone you would never otherwise have a use for, is priceless. The reason why the book Silence of the Lambs was a relative yawn fest compared to The Red Dragon was because of perspective. Thomas Harris took you into the world of a psychopathic killer, into his history, pinpointed what set him on his path and made you sympathetic to him when he fought his inner demon (literally) to try to break out of his pattern. That, my friends, is a feat.

In a book or a story, you have the opportunity to look at thing from another side (an alien or a minority), and you can twist them, too. There are good guys and bad guys in every subgroup, in every country, in every profession. You can spend a whole book on one perspective, make the reader comfortable with it, and then turn it around in the end to change the look and feel entirely. I have a children's book called I Wish I Were a Butterfly by Ed Young where a cricket bemoans its ugliness. In the end, the eyes of a friend convince it that it is not so ugly after all, so it starts to fiddle. And a butterfly comes by and says, "What beautiful music that creature makes. I wish I were a cricket."

That's what I'm talking about.

Ideally, I'd like to see people write painting a particular picture of someone we wouldn't normally get a good sense of, perhaps a criminal or an autistic child, a welfare recipient or a panhandler, an illegal alien or an executive from AIG in such a way that we could see things from their side, even if we didn't agree with it.

I'll put up my own example a little later.


  • flit

    playing with perspective is one of the most fun things about writing, y'ask me.

    I LIKE the challenge of writing in different voices. And sometimes find that if something isn't working in one perspective, trying a different character's voice can be very effective.

  • Bob Johnson

    Very interesting, never thought about it but when I was reading my older posts the other day I learned more about me, I don't really know what this has to do with this post except to say I think we learn more about the person writing the blog then the person knows about themselves, it's an eyeopener.

  • Stephanie B

    flit, I'm with you. I'm planning to provide an example, too.

    Bob, does this mean you know more about me than I do? You won't tell anyone my secrets, will you?

  • Stephanie B


    They'd been her life for so long, she didn't know what to do, what her life could mean without them. She'd lived for them. They had driven her days and nights, been her impetus, been her life.

    And they were gone.

    Not that she hadn't known she had problems. She knew she was unhappy, knew, in fact, that she was losing it, but she couldn't tell anyone how much and how much she needed help, how lost she'd felt. It sounded like she was complaining about them, like she was a bad mother because they were driving her crazy.

    Not because they were bad, but because she had lost herself in her love and care for them. Their world didn't leave her room for herself, if she could even find herself any more. You can't tell people that without sounding like you just didn't love them. And she did. She LIVED for them.

    Even now, she couldn't remember what did it, what snapped, what happened that made her put them face down in the water, hold them there until they stopped struggling, one right after the other. Were they crying or laughing or shouting? She had no idea.

    But she knew they were gone. She knew she had done that, had killed them rather than admit to being a bad mother. Now all she had was herself and all the time to find herself she could ever need.

    It was better to be dead.

  • Shakespeare

    Here's mine, and I warn you, it's pathetic:

    Patrick listened to the silence. It sifted through the water around his five points, rubbing along his bulging belly, reminding him that it had been at least thirty minutes since his last ice cream cone.

    He sighed, listening some more. He could hear the silence through his heavy rock roof, weighing down on him more heavily than his own hunger. Everyone was gone. Squidward and SpongeBob were both at work by now, and Gary was probably napping after his morning bowl of snail food.

    Snail food. For a moment, Patrick hoped SpongeBob had left his door unlocked. But then his feeble brain reminded him of how sick he felt after his last bag of snail food. Or was it snail droppings? He couldn't remember. Some days he couldn't remember his own name.

    His name? Why was he thinking about his name? Why was his tummy feeling weird? What could that feeling mean? Did he even have a name?

    The confused starfish winced, unused to feeling discomfort. He pulled on his swimming trunks, lifted the rock, and wandered off towards the Krusty Krab, following the smell of Krabby Patties all the way there.

    SpongeBob hollered at him through the window, and suddenly Patrick remembered his name again. His name was Patrick, wasn't it?

    But why was his tummy hurting?

  • Bob Johnson

    Lol, Your secrets are safe,lol, as long as mine are,lol.

  • Stephanie B

    Shakespeare, that definitely counts, but perhaps you should watch a little less Nickelodeon.

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