Perspectives

Over the last 5 years of steady writing, I find that I’m most comfortable writing from the first person perspective. That can be a good or a bad thing, depending on the kind of story I’m telling. I always sound like “me” when I write in first person. I try very hard to adapt to my vision of the character, but inevitably that character is some version of my own self. Maybe not exactly, but I guarantee that anyone who knows me well would recognize aspects of my personality shining brightly through.

Ok, so that’s fine if I’m telling a contemporary story about a white, educated, married but childless, female who lives in the Northeastern United States. But what do I do if I want to write from the perspective of a male character, or an elderly person or someone from a different race or culture? There are those who feel that everyone should stay in their own cultural lane but that’s a much bigger discussion so let’s just set it aside for a moment.

When we find ourselves developing a character very different from ourselves, often we can only use information we have either read or observed. This is unfortunately, an aspect of writing where things can go horribly wrong. I think the writer needs to tread carefully and do more than guess or assume how it feels to be someone else. Be humble enough to ask for help. Interview people of that group to ask what their experiences are. And if you don’t know anyone of a particular group well enough to ask for feedback then you probably shouldn’t be trying to write from that point of view. Let’s assume you do. Have someone like your character read a little of the story and comment on what you got right and what you got wrong. Make changes based on their feedback.

As for keeping your writing within your own cultural boundaries, I have mixed feelings on this. On one hand, I think it’s wonderful to include characters from different backgrounds in your stories, especially if that is part of your real life experience. We are creators after all, meant to be using our imaginations. On the other hand, if you get this wrong, your writing can be offensive to the people you are writing about. Now I realize that in today’s world everyone seems to be hypersensitive about everything, so it can be intimidating to write about another culture. But having a purposefully diverse cast of characters can also end up seeming patronizing. If it’s not happening naturally, don’t force it.

I think it is one of the wonderful aspects of writing: pretending to be someone else. We create whole new worlds and people them with characters developed from our creative minds. These characters deserve to be the best, most authentic versions of themselves and not stereotypes or caricatures. Which is why we, their creators, need to be certain of their perspectives.

*Header image via Pixabay

28 thoughts on “Perspectives

    1. Yes, that’s true. I suppose in a way it’s a good thing – to consider opposing points of view. It creates understanding at a minimum. If the world had more of that it would be a nicer place!

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  1. So true Meg, it’s slippery ground but we must reach out , extend beyond what we have personally experienced to create an interesting work. I am politically correct though many think that’s overdone and it’s ok to trample on other cultures these days and just say what’s on the tip of our tongue , in writing a novel I believe we have poetic license to use our imagination in fiction even if that means some controversy. A most interesting and thoughtful discussion Meg, have a great day! ♥️

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    1. Thanks, Holly! I hope to always be sensitive to other people’s feelings and would never want to offend. At the same time, I don’t want to keep my writing scope so narrow that it gets repetitive, which is a risk if you stay in your lane! Wishing you a great day too! ❤️

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  2. You bring up some heavy topics here. I do think some of the “our voices” mandates can hamper creativity, even while they seek to increase cultural sensitivity. I know that I enjoy writing from the perspective of a male and have done so in several of my short stories. I think female writers have an easier time of this than male writers trying to write through the lens of a female.

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    1. You might be right on that. I don’t have too much trouble writing as a man either. I wonder if this is a trend that will pass or if it will only increase. The arts are meant to broaden the mind not shrink it to a narrow focus. I hope we find a happy medium in what’s acceptable and kind!

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    1. It does! And I think trying to write from another perspective helps you empathize with a different group of people. Maybe even see a point of view you never considered before. I know I’ve thought differently about a lot of things since I’ve been writing! Thanks, Angela!

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  3. When you writing and you come across a piece of prose and you’re wondering about something you wrote, ask your hubby “Would a man say this?”. Spouses are very handy to have around at times. When I’m writing as someone I’m clearly not – Cassie Cater of Blue Cottage – I frequently ask my wife “would a woman say this?” its a fine line we cross and allows to understand the other gender a little more, not much but a little.

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  4. It seems that one can project into being almost anyone or anything as a (good) writer, but then in first person that is what the reader is experiencing too, so the view must be excellent. If I read about a person in third person, I can misjudge them based on observation and misdirection of the author, but if I read their thoughts and view, which tells my mind that “I” did this or that, then they have to make sense or be compelling or comprehensible to me, even if the person is what I might think of as ‘crazy’ or ‘wrong’ or other negative attitudes–otherwise the inside I of the reader starts to say, “No way does that sound right”. Good luck with the balance of it!

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    1. You’re right about first versus third person. In third person, we are left to understand the character by their actions or whatever the narrator chooses to reveal to us. First person does put you inside the character’s head, so when you are writing someone much different from yourself, it becomes especially challenging! Thanks, Donnalee! Have a great evening!

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  5. Some of my favorite novels are written in the first person, but for new writers, I recommend they stay away from the first person because of all the horrific mistakes that can happen with it. I wrote my first novel in the third person, with two point-of-view characters (one each female and male). As the mother of three testosterone-based life forms (and mother-in-law of another), I feel I have a pretty good handle on what makes them tick, but I did solicit their advice for one issue (gym equipment and working out).

    The novel I wrote is set in Ireland, and I did three years of cultural immersion research. While I did make a two-week visit to that country, I didn’t interview any Irish people, because I was able to get all the indigenous viewpoints I needed from three years of daily reading the Irish Independent and the Irish Times newspapers online.

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    1. I like to read in the first person POV, too. I think that’s why I gravitate to it as a writer. You’re right about the potential for disaster though! So far my published novels have been set in my home region and are from the perspective of women in their thirties, so not much of a stretch to write in first person. My WIP is set during the years leading up to and during WWI so I’m depending on extensive research, poetry and art of the time along with documentary and biography reading to get my narrative right!

      Love that you’ve set your novel in Ireland! I’ll be sure to check it out. I’ve been spending a few weeks a year there since 2005 and I’m finally making the move permanently this spring. Very excited! ☘️

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  6. I met a woman at a class who calls herself a “sensitivity reader.” She is disabled and edits books and scripts specifically for how they portray characters with disabilities. She said there are others who do the same for specific, races, cultures, religions, etc. I had no idea this was a niche, (and no idea if she gets much work) but I thought it was really interesting – and made a lot of sense!

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