When I was teaching, I noticed that many of my beginning students depicted characters that were very similar. I realized that everyone in their stories spoke in the same voice. I advised the writers to think of other people they knew. “How would your mother say this? Your best friend? The person who annoys you most?” It’s important to give your characters different voices.
Similarly, it’s important to give your characters different perspectives. In writing and in life it’s tempting to assume that everyone sees the world the same way you do. When you’re writing, giving your characters different perspectives creates conflicts, providing tension and suspense. In daily life, we’re constantly met with conflicts because the people we deal with don’t see things the way we do. There are two ways to handle that conflict: letting your blood pressure rise, or learning to appreciate that the world is not one-dimensional.
This idea was nicely illustrated to me when we lived for several years in an architecturally interesting home. If you stood to the south and looked at the house, all you saw was a three car garage with an acutely slanted roof. The only conclusion you could draw was that it was a one story house. If you stood to the east, you saw what obviously looked like a two story house with a one story wing attached to the south, and if you looked closely, you could see window wells that indicated there was a basement.
If you stood to the north, You could see the house was a front to back split level, with two stories to the east and two levels lowered a half floor to the west and no indication of a basement. But if you stood to the west, you saw two floors to the north and one floor to the south half way between—a side to side split.
Four people could stand on four sides of the building and argue endlessly unless they each walked completely around the house and incorporated the four different—and seemingly contradictory perspectives!
Here’s an exercise to enlarge your thinking: the next time you find yourself disagreeing with someone, ask a few polite questions (think of it as walking around the building) and see if they’re making some valid points that need to be integrated into your perspective!
here to edit.
Stephanie Kay Bendel is the author of EXIT THE LABYRINTH: A Memoir of Early Childhood Depression – Its Onset and Aftermath, MAKING CRIME PAY: A Practical Guide to Mystery Writing, and A SCREAM AWAY, a romantic thriller published under the house name, Andrea Harris. She has also written numerous short stories and articles on writing.