I’ve been thinking a lot lately. About a number of things. Whether or not I’m selected for Pitch Wars, I plan on gaining my writerly following on this here website. So, it seems as good a time as any to write about something BESIDES the contest. Which brings me to the topic of this post: perspective.
The other day, an editor and I were discussing Gregory Maguire, specifically his novel Wicked. If by some chance you live under a rock or just aren’t familiar with Broadway, let me give you a brief run down on how the novel which inspired this wickedly famous musical came to be. (Did you see what I did there? *wink*)
Mr. Maguire, a children’s author, had been wondering about the wicked witch. His exact words were: “Everyone else in Oz had a longing: For a heart, for a brain, for courage, for a way home. Surely the Wicked Witch of the West wanted something other than shoes.”
So with that question in mind, and some of the “strange tics” and other info from the original story, he set to penning the witch’s version of what really went down before Dorothy dropped in. His only goal was to prove that, despite some missteps along the way, the witch was NOT inherently evil.
(In case you didn’t know this either, the witch’s name, Elphaba, is a play on L. Frank Baum’s initials. L- F- B: Elphaba.)
Wicked (and a slew of sequels) was the result and ended up being his first manuscript for adults. If you haven’t read it,you should. But be warned: sex and politics are rampant, which is what I was telling this editor friend. However, the reason I enjoyed the book so much, was because it taught me about perspective.
How different would any number of novels be if written from the perspective of a different character?
What if, instead of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, it was Tom Riddle and the Muggle Orphanage?
Or instead of Peter Pan, we saw Neverland through Hook’s eyes? (Mentor Brianna Shrum has beaten me to this, actually. I am both jealous and excited to read this! The link to her book on good reads is here: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/24517738-never-never)
Most importantly, who would we be rooting for if Jurassic World was told from the perspective of a caged, hungry dinosaur that was only desperate for freedom? Of course, this one is a joke. (Or is it?) But you see what I’m getting at.
Wicked taught me that even my “villains” need to be compelling. They have to believe in their cause. They have to believe in it SO MUCH, that if I told the story from their perspective, I would be compelled to believe in it too. And much like what happens when you read/watch Wicked, if done well, once you see their side, the villain/antagonist becomes an anti-hero/protagonist/failed hero.
And it shouldn’t stop at our main characters, good or bad. Every character we write needs to have his/her own motivations and stakes. I truly believe that making sure we do this when adding new characters will eliminate any stereotypical/filler characters. If you’re looking at your ensemble and saying, “Well, he’s the comic relief and she’s the brat, etc.” but you can’t tell me WHY they’re like that, or WHAT they want, then ask yourself: Have you created a character or a stereotype?
Despite knowing this, I’m still having trouble mastering it. I can think of two characters in my “completed” MS and at least one in my WIP that aren’t very well fleshed out; I’m looking at you Groupie, Friend of Groupie, and Jock. (And no, those aren’t their actual names.) So if you’re sorting through your characters right now and wanting to bang your head against the wall, just don’t. Because you’re in good company. Every character has to start somewhere. And as long as you’re consciously working to make each character feel real and believable, you’ll get there at one draft or another.
Now that we’re thinking about it though, let’s make it goal. Go through each character and ask yourself what they want, what’s in their way, and what will they do to get it. If you find some of them lacking, see if you can cut them and absolve his/her lines into another character. Or if you hate to remove characters, then see if you can flesh them out and make them more integral to the story. (Keep in mind, we do have to kill our darlings sometimes…) I’m betting the result will be a tighter, stronger story, along with some gained perspective.
As a reminder: I think it was mentor Nikki Roberti, who quoted her husband saying, “The world doesn’t always have to explode.” Meaning, the stakes don’t have to be monumental to be stakes. Yes, when dealing with main characters in SFF they tend to be monumental (Insert Brooding Young Adult Hero joke here), but any kind of dilemma — especially things readers can relate to— will be just fine. My point is, don’t feel like every character has to be overwhelmed with massive responsibility to be authentic.
A final thought:
George Eliot once said, “It is a narrow mind which cannot look at a subject from various points of view.” I know that as writers, we have boundless imaginations and very open minds. We can do this, friends.
Sound off in the comments: What’s your favorite quote about perspective? Or, what book would you like to see written from a different POV?