Friday, June 15, 2018

It's All About Perspective



Hi everyone, Winnie Griggs here. Today I'd like to discuss Perspective from three different angles.
A lot of folks think of POV and Perspective as inter-changeable, but while they are related there are some key differences. POV refers to the type of narrator you’ve chosen to tell your story, the vantage point from which your reader will experience your story.  It’s a technical choice you make based on whether you want to tell an up close and personal first-hand account, an omniscient narrative or something in between. 


Perspective, on the other hand, is about how your characters view, process and filter the actions, environment and sensory details they encounter. It takes into account your character’s education, experience, upbringing, beliefs, attitudes and goals. Because the sum of a person’s experiences and beliefs will inform how they view the world and react to whatever they are faced with.
There’s a quote I like from Dr. Wayne Dyer, who was an author and speaker in the field of self-development. You may have heard before:
If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.
Of course, Dr. Dyer, was referring to one individual adjusting their focus to see things in a different light. But it can apply equally well to the writer who wants to present either a deeper characterization of an individual character or slant a scene or description a certain way.

CHARACTER PERSPECTIVE
To nail your character’s perspective, you first need to make certain you understand their backstory, the events, environment, occupation, relationships, experiences and ambitions that shaped him into who he is in the today of your story.
Let me try to illustrate.
If a young child, a woman who just learned her cancer is in remission, and a CEO who’s late for a meeting all got caught in a rainstorm, their reactions and observations would all be different. The child might gleefully seek out puddles to splash in, the woman might smile and view it as a blessed sign of renewal, and the CEO would likely grumble at the inconvenience.

But it goes even deeper than that. Perspective should play a role in word choice, in what details are mentioned and which are ignored, and it will determine the attitude with which those details are viewed. 
Let’s discuss a few examples to illustrate what I mean
In the area of word choice:
Let’s say you have a seamstress who suddenly comes upon something that frightens her. She might think in terms of fear stitching its way up her spine or about her nerves unraveling. But if you put a sailor in the same situation, he might think in terms of being pulled under, drowning or swimming in shark infested waters.
Or suppose we have a young child and an adult both describing a puppy. The adult would probably use words like rambunctious, house-trained (or not!), kid-friendly, purebred, rescue. But your child wouldn’t be thinking in those terms – or at least he shouldn’t be. Instead he would use words such as wiggly, furry, or say the puppy like to gives wet kisses.
If in both of these instances you use generic terms for the emotion of fear or the description of the puppy, you are not only missing the opportunity to add color to your story, but also failing to deepen your characterization
In the area of details:
Let’s say you have a group of friends walking into a museum lobby – we’ll call them Tim, Sue and Leo. Tim has been there a number of times so he doesn’t look around or pay attention to any of the teaser exhibits. Instead he goes right to the ticket counter to pay the entry fee. What he notices is how talkative the ticket agent is, what the discount options are, what flyers are on the counter.
Sue, on the other hand, has never been to this museum before and what she notices when she walks in are the elegant architecture of the lobby, the plush benches and beautiful tapestries and the stunning patterns in the tile floor.
Then we come to Leo who hasn’t been here before either, but he was dragged along and doesn’t really want to be there. What he notices are the long lines and the high price of the tickets.
In the area of attitude and values:
Going back to our example of the three friends at the museum. Let’s say Tim is an artist in his own right and has a deep appreciation for art in all its forms and is eager to share that appreciation with others. If we are viewing the museum through his eyes we will get a very positive, immersive impression.  
As for Sue, she really only has a surface appreciation for art, doesn’t understand any pieces that aren’t literal and really just wants to impress Tim, who’s her boyfriend. If we are viewing the exhibits through her eyes we’ll get a very different impression, one of vague confusion and eagerness to see the beauty that’s just beyond her understanding. 
And of course, there’s our reluctant friend Leo. He grudgingly trails behind his two friends.  He considers the exhibits lame and he’s on to Sue’s pretense so what we’ll get from him is a very cynical view of his surroundings.

Hopefully you can see how, by digging deep into who your characters are you’ve enriched your story and added layers of texture for your reader to enjoy.
In the end, you want to highlight the variety in your individual characters. You need to get out of their way and allow them to reveal themselves through word and thought in a way that is true to who they are.

AUTHOR PERSPECTIVE
There is another kind of perspective that impacts your writing and it’s based on what slips into our stories based on the author’s perspective.  Because your own values, beliefs, experiences can’t help but color your work to some degree. It’ll show up in the subtext, in the way we dive deep into or avoid certain topics - your ideas of justice and morality and spirituality all influence how we portray our characters in our stories.

We’ve all read ‘agenda stories’, stories where the author had a point they are trying make and they are using the story as a vehicle to deliver the agenda. It is like being preached at and if it is very heavy handed it will quickly cause the reader to put the book aside in favor of another, more entertaining read.
But even if we don’t have an agenda or want to hammer home a social, political or moral issue of some kind, author perception can still creep into our work.  As writers we need to be conscious of this and try to minimize this author intrusion in your work so that we can be true to our characters and the story we are trying to tell.

READER PERSPECTIVE
And there is yet another level of perception that impacts your story, and this is one you as the writer have absolutely no control of – that of reader perceptions. Each reader will bring the sum of his or her own experiences into the reading experience. If your story contains elements of violence, abuse, injustice, infidelity, etc., you are going to be touching on sensitive areas for your readers who have experienced some of those things. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go there, just that you need to be aware it will have that impact.

But even something you thought of as quite innocuous when you wrote it might very well strike a nerve with some of your readers. Something as simple as a scene set at an outing to the circus could set off alarm bells in your reader simply because she had a very frightening experience at a circus when she was a child.
As I said you really have no control over this, but it is just something for you to be aware of.

So what do you think? Have you ever looked at perspective from all its various angles in either your writing or reading? Is there something I've left out here or that you disagree with? Let's discuss! 


31 comments:

  1. Hi Winnie:

    I like to consider the marketing perspective. That is how saleable is the story. What could be done to make it much more saleable? How much marketing can you build into the story before you write the first word? For example a different location may sell the book with far more success. Different and more interesting professions may swing more buyers to your book than others of the same theme. Special events like the Albuquerque Balloon Festival may get the attention of many more people who might have an interest in finding out more about the sport.

    Then I also am very concerned with the perspective of how rewarding the book is to read. Does it reward readers enough per page to keep the pages turning? What can be done to make it more rewarding to read? Are questions being asked of the reader which the reader must have answered as soon as possible?

    Also I think of the aesthetics perspective. How beautiful, artistic, or poetic is the prose and/or the reading experience. Is it musical, inspirational, visually interesting? These things should not be left to chance.

    In short: write so it will sell, make it very rewarding reading, and provide an beautiful reading experience.

    Doing this will make life much easier for the marketing people.

    Vince


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  2. Hi Vince. Those are great additions to the list of different types of perspectives to consider! Thanks for chiming in.

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  3. Winnie, this is so true and something I have to remind myself of often... because I'll either use one tool for multiple characters, or because I'll assign a perspective based on character and then let it slip. Thank heavens for revisions and edits!!!!

    This is a conference lesson in a blog post. Thank you!!!

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    1. Hi Ruthy! I aree on being thankful for revisions, I don't think very many of us get this all right the first time through.

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  4. Winnie, there is a lot to think about here.

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  5. Winnie, you really got me at reader perspective. If I'm writing about something that could be a sensitive subject for someone, I often take them into consideration in my approach. I don't want to add to anyone's pain. Though there are times when you get a reader letter from someone who is intimately familiar with that subject and they say that you encouraged them. I always approach those difficult topics with lots of prayer, starting with, "Does this really need to be here?" And if the answer is yes, then you have to write as God leads you.

    Another excellent post, Winnie. As Ruthy said, a conference lesson right here. Thanks!

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    1. Hi Mindy, Reader perspective is a tricky one. Some things are obvious triggers, but we can't ever know everything that will hit close to home for someone. All we can do is approach our writing thoughtfully and prayerfully

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  6. Winnie, such a great post!! I could only read quickly for the moment. I'm heading out to go help clean my son and DIL's house before they move tomorrow. I'll be back later to do a more thorough reading!

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    1. Hi Missy! Good luck with your cleaning - such a nice Mom-thing to do.

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  7. Thanks for this great post. It is all something I need to consider as I write.

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    1. Hi Wilani. You're welcome and thanks for stopping by!

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  8. Interesting post, Winnie. This gives me some good things to think about in my writing.

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    1. Thanks Sandy! And it's something we ALL need to think about as we're developing our stories

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  9. Hi Winnie,
    An excellent blog, as you always provide! Most of us write from a Christian worldview. That's our perspective. Some readers enjoy our stories. Others may choose stories that embrace a different culture. Personally, I enjoy stories that include a faith element...something that is at the core of who I am and how I want to live my life.

    Just my musings on a great blog!

    Hugs to all!

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    1. Hi Debby:

      How could I miss the Christian worldview? And how about if the perspective is consistant with the Moral Premise of the story? Also is the story truly inspirational or is it just clean and moral? Does the story inspire or does the HEA just make you feel good? Are there heroic actions?

      Winnie has a great post here today because it inspires many more useful ideas on writing.

      Does the story make you think in new ways about improving your life? I have to go think more about this. Can't wait for more comments to come in.

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    2. Hi Debby. Good point and one I need to integrate into my notes.

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  10. Winnie, this is a great, thoughtful post.

    It seems to me that the author needs to know their POV character intimately to be able to see a situation from their perspective. That means that you can't afford to use a cardboard cut-out hero - he needs to have depth and emotion...and we're the ones who have to give it to him. (The same goes for the heroine, of course, and any secondary characters.)

    Another reason why writing isn't for the faint of heart!

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    1. Thanks Jan! And you're spot on. The key to nailing the character perspective is to be able to really get into their head and their heart - anything less and they just won't resonate strongly with your reader.

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  11. I must admit that you have challenged me with this post. I understand perspective and I see how this affects us daily but the other points are interesting indeed!
    Thanks for sharing and I'm sure that this will be saved by many who are writing a book.
    Blessings!

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    1. Hi Connie. You're welcome - glad you found something of interest here. And I hope feeling challenged is a good thing :)

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  12. Such an excellent post! It's such and odd phenomenon, that something that springs from our mind and perspective has the ability to enter someone else's mind and perspective and become personal to them.

    Writing is weird and wonderful!

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    1. Thanks Erica. And I think weird and wonderful sums it up nicely! :)

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  13. Congrats to all the Genesis finalists!!

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  14. I'm finally back and can read more closely this time. A great post, Winnie! I love trying to use my characters' perspective while describing things and looking at the world while in their POV. I like to use my characters' personalities and careers to help with words choice--especially when I'm trying to dream up a metaphor or simile. Like my golf course owner hero in Back to You. He thought the heroine's tone of voice was like a nine-iron in January. I had fun with that one. :)

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    1. Hi Missy! Sounds like you already have a good handle on this. And what a fun metaphor!!

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  15. A challenging and helpful post, Winnie. Much for me to think about. Congratulations to Kathy and all the Genesis finalists.

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  16. This is great. I especially love your example for the seamstress. I know I come unraveled at times, too. ;-)

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