I turned my pickup left at the light coming from our neighborhood and accelerated onto the hot six-lane past a gravel truck, then a dump truck, then a pickup pulling landscaping equipment. Merging into the far right lane, I noticed several brand spanking new houses across a field that ten years ago was full of dove, but now contained nothing but rows and rows of houses marching toward the highway.
“Where’d those houses there come from? I don’t remember them being built.”
“Yes you do.” The War Department gave me one of her patented sighs, indicating that I’d once again taxed her in some way. “We talked about them the other day on the way to Greenville.”
She was right. For the past year, I’d watched a variety of trucks cut a dirt path across the pasture and into what was once woods, only to emerge full of dirt, rocks, and unknown items covered with tarps. At the same time, other large trucks carrying equipment, sand, and concrete made even more inroads into the former woodland.
But I hadn’t noticed those houses so close to the road.
No one was in the lane ahead, so I gave the growing housing edition a second look. They’d drained a stock tank that held ducks in the wintertime and pushed down all the trees they could find with a bulldozer, not even giving them the dubious dignity of falling from chainsaws.
I squinted at the Tyvek-wrapped houses that would soon be hidden by brick walls, gates, and the most despicable trees every to disgrace a landscape, Bradford Pears. Then it hit me.
The new houses hadn’t registered because of my perspective. I hadn’t paid any attention to the last of the dead and dying trees still anchored at the edge of the road, and when I did, they framed the buildings and made them pop. It’s an old photography trick to catch the eye and make a photo more striking.
Perspective changes everything.
Webster defines perspective as the capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance, including the appearance to the eye of objects in respect to their relative distance and positions.
It was my perspective that was off when I was looking at all that new construction, and I realized that’s true in everything, especially…
Well good Lord, the boy’s finally gotten to the point here, Ethyl! Hurry up with that popcorn and let’s see what he’s trying to say!
We all have a different way of looking at things, from opinions to politics, to real positioning of physical entities. It’s the same in writing. Perspective is how your characters view and deal with the events unfolding within a story, and you have control of all that.
Don’t get Point of View confused with Perspective. An author’s POV focuses on the type of narrator he or she wishes to emphasize. It concentrates on defining the narrator’s characteristics while perspective focuses on how the chosen narrator perceives and feels about what’s happening in the novel. There’s no need to belabor this point any longer, because my running buddy John Gilstrap covered this well in his last post, so give it a read.
And to add a personal note here, I hadn’t read John’s post until I’d finished this one. It seems that we’re on similar, but distinctly different paths this week.
Taking a note from personal experience growing up with an extremely annoying little brother, I often had to explain of what had just happened, while the Old Man stood there with his eyes flashing, before Little Brother told his side.
The story changed depending on which of us was telling it. And my version was always right. “He fell through the wall!”
“Did not! He knocked me through the wall, Dad!”
To me, it was a subtle but important different based on how we viewed the events leading up to that significant moment in our lives that day. Frankly, I was shocked that a small human could fly completely through two layers of sheetrock and into my parent’s bedroom without hitting the studs.
In the first book of my Sonny Hawke series, Hawke’s Preya, I switched perspectives between Ranger Hawke and the villain Marc Chavez, to show (show, don’t tell!) how each man thought he was right. From Chavez’s point of view, he was using a violent takeover of a small town trying to change the world to better for himself and others of like mind.
Ranger Hawke dealt with the bad guys according to the law and did what was necessary to save a class of high school students, including two of his own, from terrorists.
I tried something different in a later novel, alternating chapters mirroring the same events in a specific timeframe based on the perception of each particular character. One reader misunderstood what I was doing and complained that the chapters were repetitive, but I felt this real-time shift in perspective added richness to the story, and hope that individual was the only one confused.
Another thing to note is that readers often insert their own beliefs into your character perspectives, and you might hear from them, good or bad. I always find these emails and reviews fascinating and look forward to wondering exactly what they read and interpreted according to their own viewpoint(s).
One reader sent me an email lambasting my “beliefs” about firearms. That person called me an “Obama Groupie” and suggested that I was an anti-gun liberal. Less than a day later another email accused me of being a right wing Republican and said I was a gun-carrying, Bible-thumping warmonger.
It’s unavoidable, but let it roll off. If it happens to you, then your character’s perspective struck a nerve and as far as I’m concerned, you’re successful.