Why authors – and their characters – need to be able to see the world differently.
The world is full of conflict and disagreement, because everyone has different opinions. Imagine, if you can, then a story where all the characters agree on everything – would it be a good story? Probably not. Character differentiation is a key part if any story, particularly between the protagonist and the antagonist. Different perspectives – how people view and process what is happening – create conflict, and a story without conflict is going to be pretty dull.
“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” – Henry David Thoreau
So when an author is creating their characters they also have to create conflict by making their various characters behave differently, and this can be achieved by giving them a different perspective (IMPORTANT – perspective is not to be confused with a point-of-view or POV. See NY Book Editors blog). Perspective enables the reader to observe characters and events etc, and we must understand this if we are to understand why the characters act as they do.
“There are three sides to every story: your side, my side, and the truth. And no one is lying.” – Robert Evans
Different perspectives can be subtle and “local” – for instance, Character A wants children, Character B does not – or they can be far more complicated and global in their reach. A complicated global perspective can be religious or political, or a combination of the two (for example morality versus greed or power). A character who has experienced abuse as a child will have a different perspective on what to do with child abusers than, for example, a human rights advocate.
“Sometimes a change of perspective is all it takes to see the light.” – Dan Brown
Dan Brown made different religious perspectives a key part of his popular books The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons – the extremes of Opus Dei and the Illuminati contrasting with the reader despite being faced with the same situation. Furthermore, Ian Fleming often used alternative perspectives on power, politics and greed/morality in his James Bond books – Auric Goldfinger’s different perspective on gold (and what possession of it allows a person to do) is the key area for conflict against Bond and MI6. Perspectives create conflict and conflict (for the author and reader) is good.
“I share no man’s opinions; I have my own.” – Ivan Turgenev
Perspectives also give us a way of getting inside the character’s head and understanding their motivation to act. The child of a soldier will probably have a different perspective on defence and national security to the child of a school teacher (but not necessarily as you might expect – an unexpected perspective can be formed by a bad experience, for example if the child thinks the parent is weak or wrong and they rebel against them).
“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.” – Abraham Lincoln
Perspective also impacts on the author in the real world. In the modern world authors cannot exist in a vacuum – they have to participate in the newly polarised social media as well as bear witness to it. Although publicly supporting one political party or religion will attract certain followers, it also endangers alienating any potential reader who does not share the same opinion. My advice is for authors to try to remain independent where possible – the reader won’t care how you voted if you can tell a good story.
“Writers should forget about being politicians and focus on telling stories about politicians.”
An author must also try to understand all perspectives of a news story and be able to act accordingly, without accepting wholesale the opinion of one newspaper or news channel. As a writer myself – and a Politics graduate with a strong interest in history – I don’t think that I can ever share the shame opinions of my friends because a) my experience is different to theirs, and b) it is my duty to see and show both sides of an argument, no matter how distasteful – I can therefore leave it to the reader to decide which perspective they agree with. Furthermore, I believe that this independence of perspective – and the resulting duty of authors to use multiple perspectives in their work to create conflict – also results in authors having a significant responsibility to show alternative viewpoints fairly or else be accused of partisanship. Opinion is a dangerous two-edged sword. Don’t let it cut your fingers.
“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is perspective, not the truth.” – Marcus Aurelius
The key thing for all authors and readers to remember is that everyone is different – we are all shaped by our own different experiences and so it is highly unlikely for people to share perspectives or opinions on all subjects – there will always be disagreement. Books can allow all readers to experience and understand alternative perspectives and the reasons behind them.
“People seem not to see that their opinion if the world is also a confession of character.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Different perspectives feed the author’s imagination, and they in turn can influence perspectives through their readers. I just hope that authors can use their power wisely and try to avoid fanning the flames of argument and discord that the modern world of social media seems currently obsessed with. However I suspect that many are just rubbing their hands at the prospect of new story lines!
Happy reading and good luck to all the writers out there.
What do you think? Are different perspectives and opinions important? Do authors hold the power to influence opinion? Should authors be overtly political? Let us know in the comments box below.