Perception and Perspective. I couldn’t decide which word to use, so I’m going to use both. (The beauty of having my own blog. It’s like being a dictator of a mini kingdom. Or perhaps a micro kingdom?)
First things first, I survived my second sea kayak fishing experience and did not take an unplanned swim this time. Although I did manage to wrap my lure around the rudder in a poorly performed attempt to cast and almost tipped over in my surprise. I was tempted to write a post using a bad analogy that compared writing and fishing, but since I’m new to both (and kinda suck at both) I decided to go with a discussion of perception/perspective instead, since the other post was going to boil down to it’s hard, you need lots of practice and patience to be any good, and the pros make it look way too easy.
So, perception and perspective. I was reminded quite strongly this weekend that each and every one of us views the world in our own unique way based upon how we perceive the world and our own personal perspective. What fascinates me is that we have a shared history with the people in our lives, but that that shared history is not identical. Two people can have a conversation and take completely different things away from it which then impacts all future interactions between them.
I have a friend who experienced severe depression at one point in their life and it basically erased a year’s worth of their memories. So, for me, when I interact with this person, I view our history as including that year. For them, it doesn’t. It can make for some very odd conversations at times.
In this weekend’s instance, I happened to have remembered some events from a year ago that someone else didn’t, so I was interpreting current events from that perspective and it finally lead to a “wait, you don’t remember that?” moment where I had to suddenly reassess and revise my interpretation of the entire conversation and possibly month’s worth of events leading up to that conversation. It was…disconcerting. Especially when I later talked to another friend about it and he gave me a completely different interpretation of events that I hadn’t even considered that flipped everything upside down (in a fairly unpleasant way, too) based upon looking at things from a different perspective. (I really hate realizing that the world does not in fact revolve around me.)
So, let’s bring this back to writing.
Every word that a writer uses creates the reader’s perception and sets their perspective. Just like how in a movie the camera focuses a viewer’s attention, a writer’s words focus the reader’s attention. (I had to throw in that movie reference, because the most recent example I could think of was from the movie The Hunger Games. I hadn’t read the books, but there’s a scene where Katniss shoots an apple. And you know she’s going to shoot the apple, because the camera keeps looking at the pig with the apple in its mouth while she stands there in frustration, bow in hand. Picture it: Katniss frustrated. Pig with apple. Katniss wanting attention. Pig with apple. Katniss wanting to shoot something. Pig with apple.)
So, as a writer, you tell the reader what is important. If your character thinks about someone, the reader is going to expect that someone to matter not just to your character, but to the story you’re trying to tell. If you describe the objects in a room, the reader expects those objects (and the way they’re described) to matter. Different genres have different rules, so maybe in a mystery you can throw in a few red herrings. Or maybe your character dwells on the wrong object, wrong issue, etc. because that’s part of your character development. (But, at the same time, you as the writer need to make sure the reader sees the important object or hears about the right issue.)
Here’s an example. Let’s say your character and his bunch of swashbuckling buddies are at a tavern talking about THE BIG ISSUE. All your character can think about is how he’s going to get the serving wench to meet him out back, because that’s the kind of guy he is. Your reader better be hearing the conversation about the big issue even if your character is letting it go in one ear and out the other. Because if your reader later finds out that your character was there for the big conversation and yet they don’t know what was said they aren’t going to like you much.
(It’s funny. Now that I wrote that grammar post I keep waiting to misuse your or its or something. It would be deeply ironic. And something I would do. I was almost kinda hoping I did it in the actual grammar post. Anyway.)
This is one of those areas where real life and a story differ. In real life there are random coincidences that actually mean nothing. And people have conversations that really have no goal or hidden purpose. They’re just talking to talk. Or a person can have all the clues they need and just not even notice it. (The other day someone walked into a bear because they were texting and not paying attention. If that were your protagonist and you were writing about it, the reader would want some sort of heads up before you walk them into a bear. For example, maybe you’d have the guy skip past an article on his smartphone about a bear being loose in the area.)
In a story if there’s a coincidence, it better mean something. And if one of your characters makes an offhanded reference to some apparently crucial event, it should probably be a crucial event. If your character says”I’m going to the Apple Fest on Friday,” then you better have a scene at the Apple Fest on Friday where something happens. Otherwise, why did you waste the reader’s time (and your imagination) inventing an Apple Fest? And why did they have to mention that they were doing anything on Friday? Are you writing a day in the life of someone down to the last detail? (Don’t. I…I don’t want to take that thought further. Ew.)
So, bottom line. Make your words count. If you’re going to write about it, make it matter. You control your reader’s perception and perspective.
(And, as usual, take this with a grain of salt because I don’t know what I’m doing. As you can see, I clearly have a cliché problem.)