Thursday, April 11, 2013

Shifting Viewpoints for a Shifting Mind

I’ve officially wrapped up the first year of my writing program. One year down. Two to go. Hopefully all my newfound knowledge is transferring to my stories. Because I’ve been telling the tale of an older woman with Alzheimer’s from her point of view (which is slightly unreliable, with a few drifts in and out of reality, if you catch my drift), I had to hone the skill of telling her tale using multiple viewpoints.

Reading a story written from multiple viewpoints is a little like a parent having one child tattle on another, only to find out with a little investigation the tattletale masterfully fabricated a story, misusing or under-using details to his or her advantage. When we hear a different side to a story, the details fill in and the characters round out and become more understandable, more heart-wrenching, deplorable, lovable, whatever.

Using differing voices throughout a book beautifully mimics real life where we learn a little about others from their self-revelation, a lot through how others view them, and even more through their actions.  Oftentimes, seeing someone through the eyes of a person who loves them makes us stop and take a second look at someone we might otherwise dislike as we become willing to give an unpleasant person a chance, looking a little more closely for that redeemable quality that maybe only the mother sees. Someone loves them.

And don’t we often hear the phrase, usually regarding someone who’s committed an unthinkable crime: “He’s the kind of person only a mother could love.” Why is it the mother loves him? Is it because she’s seen him in a multitude of circumstances? She’s seen his motivations, vulnerabilities, fears, unselfish moments, loving moments and every experience that formed him into the person he has become. Most importantly, she once saw her child through eyes that hoped he or she would choose a different path. She never stopped loving him when the results of his choices brought on destruction; she clings to the last vestiges of her dream because at his core, she knows who her child could’ve been.

To be honest, we all have moments of being a beast to one person and an angel to the next. We are tyrants at home while being respectable at work. No one really sees us accurately without viewing us from a full range of human interactions and perspectives and through the eyes of multiple people – not just our own warped and one-sided, deluded impression of ourselves.

Just an aside here, if in the world of books we demand three-dimensional people that readers will love and accept as genuine and authentic characters, why is it in life we often settle for making others one-dimensional? Because of my recent studies, I’ve found myself imagining how someone would describe themself or their viewpoint without anyone else furnishing the details for them. It’s amazing what we might hear when we let characters (and people) speak for themselves rather than putting dialogue on their lips and intentions in their hearts.

And so my year ends. I’ve dragged my character, Eva, into the empty house of her dead friend where she believes she can live without anyone finding her. She’s stumbled into the house of an unknown neighbor to make tea for her son who lives overseas until the owner kindly comes to check on what she’s doing. Through most of her missteps, Eva believes she’s just fine. And isn’t that like the rest of us? We’re a little blind to those parts of us that live in shadows, desperately needing the light of some kind and truthful words to let us out.

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