A Matter of Perspective (#0039)

Let’s talk about Perspective a little bit.

Not first-person, not second-person, not even third-person perspectives.

If you’d like to read about literal Point of View involving a narrator’s position, then feel free to read these decent articles on the issue; The Write Practice’s Point of View in Writing, Aim’s College Points of View in Writing, Quick and Dirty Tips for First, Second, and Third Person, Robert Sawyer’s Point of View Two Heads Aren’t Always Better Than One, Writer’s Digest Point of View, Writing Commons Points of View, The Beginning Writer’s Different Types of Point of View, The Writers’ Workshop Points of View in Fiction, Joseph Bates on The Basics of Point of View for Fiction Writers, Novel Writing Help’s The Complete Guide to Point of View, Writing World’s Establishing the Right Point of View by Marg Gilks, Purdue Online Writing Lab Theme, Conflict, and Point of ViewFiction Writer’s Mentor on Point of View in Fiction, For Dummies Understanding Point of View in Literature, Narration on Wikipedia, The Cache Point of View Types and Hints, and oh my gosh, there’s so many more, you can google to sift through the overwhelming amount of articles written about Point-of-View.

After all, literal PoV discussion is necessary to explore as a writer. For instance, a lot of the rewrite work in my fantasy novel, Stolen Control, is due to cleaning up and tightening head-hopping (switching between character PoVs) because I wasn’t firm during the rough draft about keeping to character. I chose to leave that for the next round of writing once I had a better idea of the story’s actual presentation and which characters I wanted to focus on. This is only an issue for this manuscript due to the trope of rotating narrators for chapters (because it’s fun! but tricky to keep track of).

My favorite POV is the concept of deep PoV.

But no. We’re not going to rehash the conversation of Narrative Point of View.

We’re going to talk about Perspective in terms of character attitudes regarding their encompassing fictional worlds.

What power a properly situated story can have, through grace of narrative, what beautiful embodiments of thought, fiction can contain.

Deep understanding of human minds launches each story into meaningful, relevant pieces. Layered mechanisms developed with each author’s skilled technique create stories in which formal precision embodies emotional resonance, placed in relevancy by the situation. Not only does an author aim to entertain, but sometimes to stimulate philosophical thought for the reader either on a conscious or subconscious level.

One of the most subtle (or blatant depending on the writer’s style) ways to do this is to develop and illustrate character perspectives.

There are so many questions to explore characters; here are a few, that I like, to get you thinking about your own characters and how to develop their perspectives further.

  • Does the character think in shades-of-gray or black-and-white?
  • Are they a hypocrite or do they lie frequently? Can they admit that they lie?
  • What internal logic do they have that manifests into their actions and choice of words?
  • Do they center everything around themselves?
  • Is the protagonist an egoist that truly believes that everything happening has something to do with them?
  • Or do they refuse to acknowledge that they might have anything to do with what is happening in the world?
  • Do they get frustrated and give up fairly soon?
  • Are they obstinate and keep on with something that should be given up?
  • Do they fall into things or do they delve deep into their assumptions about life?
  • What does your character believe? What are their core beliefs?
  • How do they think?
  • Versus what they believe, what does your character actually know?
  • If you ask your character ‘Who Are You?’, what might they say?

Why does the knight want to save the damsel? Does he ever think about his motivations and where they come from?

Why does the wizard dedicate time to silent thought or studious days indoor when he could be doing other things?

What about their specific perspectives cause them to lead lives in these characteristic ways?

Do all archetypes act similar due to the same motivations?

Are their motivations internal, external, a complex mix of both?

Write it out, figure it out, explore!!!

There are no limits when it comes to exploring character perspectives and developing complexity.

Go beyond the page and observe real people with how they come to conclusions.

Read everything and anything to research understanding of how different people think about things and how they go about explaining their thoughts and beliefs.

Apply what you find to your characters and aim for diversity of perspectives among your casts!

If all of your good (or evil) characters agree with one another perfectly, then there is work to be done in developing complexity of perspective.

Even if characters agree with each other, they should have some different reasons as to why they do. Mimicking reality, there can be points of similarity and agreement, but there should also be a range between those points and the points of contention and differences that creates a complicated mixture of characters interacting with each other and the worlds around them.

In example, while writing Stolen Control, there are a lot of issues that characters can have different perspectives on. Some of these issues; how magic is viewed, how mages are treated, what kind of response is given to demons, preferred modes of transportation, responses to various laws, which currency they believe in, and many more topics that are specific to the world that the characters exist within.

There should definitely be more than four or so ways to react to these complex world issues. Also, reactions should not be based on a single facet of a character’s identity. In example, every single Orc shouldn’t think axes are the greatest weapon ever. There should be a range of thought and reaction to the concept of the axe as a weapon and there should be more than one reason in a character’s identity for the basis of why they think that way – i.e. a warrior Orc who used to be a lumberjack might have more plausibility to believe that the axe is the greatest weapon ever.

If the aim is to develop complexity (rather than simplicity), avoid generalizations whenever possible.

For speculative fantasy, it isn’t enough to observe general views from our own world to develop perspectives. Extend further and consider pressing issues of the unique world that has been created. This built world is the characters’ real world and should completely build their beliefs, values, and understanding of how to interact with this or that.

It helps to trace prominent and related societies during world-building to figure out why that protagonist ends up being such a good guy or why that villain thinks in such ways – not in regards to how we believe evil and good are formed in our own world, but in that world specifically.

The author has the great opportunity to control how much earthly history is reflected in their fantastical world, so it helps to be aware that not every world is a carbon-copy of Earth and not every society is built on generic modern human values while writing and plotting.

World differences, such as the use of elves, can be shrouded illustrations of earthly aspects or they can be pure speculative exploration into something seemingly alien and beyond-human or even (and more often)… a mix of both!

The well of character perspective can be infinitely deep, if one dares to dive beneath the surface.


image credit: Carlos Villa