Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Matter of Perspective

Post by Jerry
I see you.  I see the world around us and write what I see into the voices of my characters. To you, dear reader, I hope they will convey the passing canvas of life.

But wait.  Without thinking, my characters have blindly juxtaposed my vision on yours.  You see, I am 5'11". Like most humans my eyes lie halfway between crown and chin on my face, just 5'5" off the ground. Unless I’m careful, all my characters see and interpret their world, real or imagined, as seen from 5'5". How crashingly dull.

What if your character is taller than most?  Career diplomats average three inches taller than the rest of us.  Height commands influence.  Is your taller character dominant? Or a woman who, at 6'1", starred on her college volleyball team. Many men are intimidated if they must look up for eye contact with a woman. I know I am. Are your taller heroine’s relationships affected by her height?

Got a character in a wheel chair? The average woman (5'5") in an average wheel chair sees her world from about 42 inches. Take a knee and look around before writing her into your piece. She might notice hands more acutely; finger twitches, chewed nails, fresh scars, rings. They are, after all, right in front of her eyes. She might also detect a belt-level glint of gun metal hidden by a sports coat quicker than her friend standing nearby.

Here’s a fun little writing assignment. Try three hundred creative words from the perspective of a two-year old in a stroller (eyes at 28") on his first trip through a crowded, noisy airport concourse.  Sit on the floor and look around. It must be a forest of legs, levis and glutei maximi. All movement, voices and pandemonium with no faces or soothing touch.

Nature writing stretches our perspective. Once, when trying to think like a beaver, I inched into a beaver pond until I sat in the muck with only my nose and eyes above the surface. By chance, an aspen leaf landed on the pool not a foot from my nose.  After that, my words could paint that leaf, how it trembled as it hit the surface, how it’s brilliant gold reflected off the mirrored surface contrasting with the green-black murk below.

I toy with writing children’s nature studies. My first will be entitled, “My Life as a Field Mouse.” For some ground truth, I try to visit the Pawnee National Grassland once each month just to sense the ebb and flow of the prairie’s seasons.  Out there, I lay on my belly, and rest one cheek on the grass. By covering my upper eye, I finally see the world as my mouse would, from two inches high. Only then can I begin to understand interactions between field mice and rattlesnakes. The snake can easily be within striking distance yet totally invisible through the thatch. No wonder these mice have very large ears.

And its other predator, the hawk? How does it see the prairie? I climbed a windmill to study the landscape from 100 feet in the air. Below me stretched a fence line. I once wrote of its weathered pine posts, their softwood sculpted by wind driven sand, barbed wire burnished black with age. This fence had brought nostalgia welling up, reminding me again of the beauty of nature and her subtle ever-changing ways. But from the perspective of a hawk, the fence transformed into a line of evenly spaced dots, running off to intersect other lines of dots, artificially meting out the prairie into sections of land – 36 to a township, with sections allotted for church and school, the grid of a hoped-for human settlement.

Have your words ever been shaped by vantage points other than your own?


Kerrie said...


This is a great post. It really made me think more about my perspective when I am writing. This summer, when the river warms up, maybe I will bring some snorkel gear and see what life is really like for our local brown and rainbow trouts.

Jerry Eckert said...

Kerrie: Or if the water is too cold, the next best option would be an underwater housing for a camera you already own.

Thinking through my post, I am struck by the thought that I have never read a book or essay where the protagonist is wheelchair bound. Are we afraid to go there? Shouldn't someone? And wouldn't writing be a great form of rehab/reconnect for the wounded vets coming home?

RichardK said...

I believe the main character of "The Bone Collector" was in a wheelchair.

You may need to go to TV and movies for wheelchair-bound protagonists. I'm thinking Jimmy Stewart in "Rear Window" and Raymond Burr in "Ironsides".

Lynn said...

Wow - great post! I'm going to scan my stories-in-progress and do a height perspective of each character. Thanks for this fascinating insight!

Patricia Stoltey said...

So far, my characters are not abnormally tall or short...except for one 11-year old girl. Now I'm thinking of all kinds of ways I could have explored and used her point of view differently. Very interesting post, Jerry.

Dean K Miller said...

Jerry: Amazing, simply amazing. Thanks for a new perspective from so many new levels.

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