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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

From My Point of View

Several years ago I had Lasix surgery in Kansas City, and for the past few months my distance vision has gotten worse. So the Friday before Memorial Day, Mike and I drove down to KC for a check-up, which for me resulted in a procedure to “tweak” my correction.

I’m not a person who expects the worst-case scenario—although it’s happened to me enough times that I should. As a result, I wasn’t prepared for my vision to be so blurry that I couldn’t read, write, drive, watch TV, or even see my own face in the mirror for five long days. (Well, the mirror part wasn’t THAT bad!) About the only thing I could do was pull weeds in my garden and hope I was pulling more weeds than flowers.

While I was stumbling around in a haze, reassuring myself minute-by-minute that my vision would improve, I saw things from a different perspective. For instance, a person who has been sightless would be ecstatic to have even my blurry vision. Someone losing her sight would cling to each fuzzy image in case it was the last thing she ever saw. A woman training to be a pilot would freak out, try to hide her condition, or both. The person's reaction would depend upon her viewpoint.

When we write, we see the world through the eyes of characters that are often very different from ourselves. Yet we need to “know” what those beings feel and think, love and hate, want and fear. Since we’ve all lived though our teens, we can draw on those experiences when we craft our characters.

It’s not quite as easy—though still doable--to adopt a viewpoint further from our range of experience. Danielle Joseph and Jenny O’Connell have both written from the male p.o.v. R.A. Nelson uses the female first person quite effectively in two of his books. In THE HOST, Stephenie Meyer writes from the p.o.v. of a female alien symbiote. Hmm. Thinking back on some of my past relationships, maybe that's not too much of a stretch. But you get my point.

I feel pretty confident that I can switch sexes and ages and even become mythical creatures if my story calls for it. The one area where I don’t feel comfortable is in creating a viewpoint character from another culture. For example, I’ve been in Jamaica several times, and I’ve spoken with a number of the people, but I wouldn’t attempt to write a novel from a Jamaican’s point of view even if I immersed myself in their culture for years. In other words, I'd take a stab at being a male troll with wart issues, but I'd feel like a fraud writing as a teen living in a culture I don't understand inside out.

Do you think I'm a chicken? Are there any first person viewpoints you wouldn’t attempt? I’d love to hear your take on it.


Jennifer Echols said...

Great post, Jan. I've thought several times about writing from the POV of someone who has grown up where I've grown up but is of a different race. But like you, I'm afraid I'll get the culture wrong and people will be insulted.

Danielle Joseph said...

Jan, you always crack me up! And I agree with Jenn that I wouldn't want to offend different cultures. It's not to say that I'd never do it because I do want to write about a Haitian mc because my husband is Haitian. But of course, I can ask him a zillion questions. This is definitely something i've thought about a lot and am still working on my answer.

Jan Blazanin said...

I can see how that would work for you, Danielle, because your husband can provide that first person viewpoint and let you know if you get it wrong. That's much better than having reading coming at me with pitchforks!