All writers have a process that allows them to create. However, the art of "Writing" is often mistaken for that "Process." Hopefully this blog explains the difference, and inspires people to develop their crafts, become writers, or just keep on writing.

Friday, March 15, 2024

Outside or Inside

One of the most important and often overlooked techniques in writing is determining the best perspective from which to tell the story. This has been experimented with a lot in the Young Adult genre - a particular series about vampires from a vampire's perspective comes to mind - but perspective is more than just who tells the story. It's also important to decide how the story focuses on a particular character. Depending on that vantage point, it can tell an entirely different story.

The other night I watched this movie based on a true story about a young, healthy woman who begins to experience a breakdown in her sense of reality. She starts seeing things that aren't there, hearing sounds when all is quiet, and eventually having full-on delusions. Through the movie we are shown these things - we know the things she is claiming to see and hear aren't there. We are shown her delusions through her increasingly erratic behavior, and we watch her fall apart all while the doctors test her for everything, find nothing, and disagree on what to do next. In this regard, we experience her story as would a family member or close friend watching someone descend into madness.

A gripping and sad story, but what if we saw it from her perspective instead?

When we show someone hearing something that isn't there and arguing with other characters about the thing we know isn't happening, we immediately associate this to the main character's growing problem. However, if it's from her perspective, we hear the background noise and therefore experience her frustration when her friends say they don't hear it. Delusions from her perspective appear real, and when we show them as being a solid part of her reality, we get the audience to experience the confusion, the frustration, the madness. At this point we no longer experience the story from the view of a helpless family member or friend, but from inside our character's head - which becomes a very frightening place to be.

Depending on which perspective is offered, we have two completely different movies. One is a very sympathetic story of one woman's struggle to find out what's wrong before it's too late, but the other is more of a psychological thriller, forcing the viewer to struggle with the boundaries of reality and delusion. Writing is the exact same idea - which story do you want to tell? It's all a matter of whether you explore the experience from inside the character or outside the character.

Unfortunately, I had similar (but far less severe) neurological problems for a brief period about twenty years ago, and the experience left me needing to process it somehow. Now, my roommate at the time helped me through the worst of it, and telling the story from what she experienced could've been a good story, perhaps even done to humorous effect (She insists she wasn't embarrassed in the slightest when she found me wandering naked through my own house, looking for my parents). Instead, I told it from the perspective of being inside the delusion, not giving the reader a clue about where my reality dropped off until the big reveal. Readers found it a little uncomfortable and very engaging, some even reading it a couple of times to realize what they had just experienced. Later I wrote the "outside" story from my roommate's perspective, and in the end I enjoyed that one too.

As a simple writer's exercise, read a short story. After that, think about another character in the story, and think about how things might be different from their perspective. Better yet, rewrite the story from that character's point of view. You might be surprised when you step out of the main character and into the mind of another. And if it excites you as a writer, it will definitely excite your readers.       

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