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.
I love it, Rev. Thanks. The next time I’m stuck on a point of view vs. perspective dilemma I’ll remember the story of you and your “extremely annoying little brother.” I had one of those. Still do, actually.
Hope you’re having a great weekend!
Ditto, that, though proving the point, I’m sure my younger brother maintains he had (has?), an annoying older brother…
Howdy, Joe and all!
I forgot today was Saturday and spent the last several hours mowing and working on an irrigation system…in 106 heat, but hey, I kept falling into the pool, so it was tolerable.
Thanks, Joe. I think we all had a sibling that should have gone through the wall at one point or another, but we both survived and are now best friends. Which is something I tell everyone with kids, let them work it out between themselves in instead of intervening, and they’ll learn more than one lesson that will serve them well in life.
Hope you have a great weekend, also!
Great discussion on perspective and POV, Rev. You gave me an idea for a future post.
I had a younger brother, but it was a sister who taught me about POV. Our conflict often ended in coming to blows. And, being younger, my sister could present her perspective in a more “convincing” way to my father, (Did I mention she was a con artist) which always led to embarrassing apologies in front of the whole family, and some unusual punishments (that would probably now be considered child endangerment).
Hope your weekend is a good one.
Thank you, sir! I’m glad I helped spark a memory or thought. We all had to suffer those issues, and parenting that was dramatically different than what you hear about today, but it was effective.
Have a good ‘un!
Interesting differentiation, Rev. Writing in Deep POV, I’ve never made the distinction. I think of my authorial POV as my voice, and then my characters have their own points of view.
In fact, my very first sale was of a short-short (1800 words) story that’s really the same scene told from his, then her viewpoints.
Anyone interested can find it (free download)here
You know, Terry, I’ve learned in the past eleven years that there’s no right or wrong, only different ways to tell out stories. I love to hear everyone’s thoughts about how this process works.
Rev, I don’t think our processes are that much different, only the terminology. Potato, Potahto.
A poem I’ve always loved is “Anecdote of the Jar” by Wallace Stevens. It’s about the same subject.
Years ago, I drove between High Point and Greensboro once a week in the evening to go to a meeting. One night I was stunned by the lights of a large strip mall where there should be woods. It was one of those moments of panic when I thought I’d made a wrong turn. I’d never been able to see the building because the road was two-lane with absolutely no lights anywhere, and the development was too far away from the road to catch my headlights. Perspective. I HATE “progress.”
You know, this kind of progress makes me tired. When we moved to our fairly rural town town, you could see the stars at night. Now there’s a Walmart, street lights, shopping centers, and stadium lights that have all but obscured the night sky. I fear our grandkids, and for sure great grandkids, are going to call us liars when we tell of lying on the trampolene in the back yard and watching shooting stars and satellites pass overhead. They will likely only be able to enjoy such a simple thing is by making reservations to visit our national parks for a few days.
I think that I shall never see
A billboard lovely as a tree.
Indeed, unless the billboards fall,
I’ll never see a tree at all.
– Ogden Nash
Ever read Edward Abbey? His hobby was cutting down billboards with chainsaws. My kinda guy. Read Desert Solitaire and The Monkey Wrench Gang.
Another couple of miles on the learnin’ curve, Rev . . . thank you.
Life is just one big adventure, full of learning curves and the occasional dead end.
Have a great weekend, and thanks for taking the time to post.
The best writing, for me, is when the perspective of the viewpoint character is apparent even in narrative portions. In First Person that’s obvious. In Third Person it’s elegant when done well. See, e.g., Elmore Leonard.
Huge fan of Mr. Leonard and Mr. James Lee Burke!
Have a good weekend.
Some readers have told me they like my villain – she is so very good, and right, about the pressures on her and the unfairness of some of the things she has to deal with as a Hollywood leading lady, America’s current Sweetheart.
Her motto is “Why not me?” – partly based on her profession, partly on her natural beauty, partly on being in the right place at the right time.
But she has no trouble stepping over the line when other methods don’t work for what she wants – because she tells herself the end results justify it. And we’re off down a slippery slope.
But in her perspective, she’s doing what needs to be done. In secret, of course.