In the last post, we talked about how plot and character must be interwoven to produce a satisfying story. In this post, we’ll take a deeper look at every character’s starting point: perspective.
A person’s (or character’s) perspective is colored by their background: their upbringing, their parents’ attitudes and biases, their natural gifts and disadvantages, and their experiences before the book opens. But perspective is much deeper than simple background facts. Consider two people who grow up in the same area in similar homes, attend the same schools, and have the same religious instruction. Will they both have the same view of life, the same prejudices, and fears? Probably not. One may be gifted; one may be slow, but diligent. One is probably better looking than the other. One may have had economic advantages, the other may have understood financial struggle from an early age. One may have had a distant mother or father; the other may have had an ideal mother/son, father/daughter relationship. Even siblings with identical backgrounds can grow up to have widely different values, goals, and outlooks on life.
Perspective, or the set of lenses through which a character looks at life, informs the motive behind every agenda they adopt and, in turn, every action or decision they make. When faced with a lover who wants more from a relationship, for example, a character with a cynical “what’s in it for me?” perspective—bred by a childhood in which they felt unloved or overlooked—their attitude would probably be less than generous, essentially dooming the relationship… unless a story arch shows them the error of their ways.
That’s the nice thing about fiction: we can make our characters’ perspectives change by the end of the book.
Which, of course, is why we call it fiction.
Perspective is extremely individual. Two military veterans, for example, both of whom lived through horrific conditions and watched comrades die, may nevertheless have vastly different outlooks—even about their combat experience. Today’s vets may have fought in literally dozens of locations and wars, from WWI to America’s involvement in Syria, Yemen, and Libya. Even if each vet has a similar take on what they did (their actions) and what they hoped to accomplish (their agenda), their reasons for doing it (their motive) is driven by their individual, personal perspective.
We’ll unpack that a little more in the next post.