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

Suburban Station

Written in response to Angela’s photo prompt for Tell the Story Challenge. Her beautiful poetry can be found at Heartbreathings. As I’m in the midst of, and bogged down on both my works in progress, I was happy to attempt this piece of short fiction as an alternative. So based on the photo below, here is my story: Suburban Station.

I was a pop superstar. I had an agent and a stage name. I got discovered at age 16 when I made the cut for Next American Star and spent most of my twenties either in the studio or on the road. I was a household name. I had all the girls I could want but I never fell in love. I had a house in California and an apartment in New York. I owned three sports cars before I even got my driver’s license.

You know what comes with that kind of life. It’s a cliche, really. Late nights, parties, booze, drugs and then other drugs the next day just so you can get up to do it all over again. And of course, the inevitable hangers-on, the leeches that form your entourage, managing your affairs so you can concentrate on being creative while they suck away your fortunes. I still have some of mine. I guess I was lucky.

It’s been two years. I’m thirty-one now but I look a lot older than that. The drugs and the pills and everything else have taken a toll. One morning, I woke up and didn’t know where I was. A hotel, yes, but what city? I had stumbled to the bathroom and puked, only to find, when I pulled my head out of the toilet, some dude sleeping in the bathtub. I didn’t recognize him. Nor did I know any of the other partiers passed out in the room. Was it even my room? I checked the closet. Yeah, those were my clothes. I had to get out of here.

I left the hotel room, found out I was in Miami, and vaguely recalled playing Hard Rock Stadium the night before. I took a cab to the airport. Tour canceled, the star is unwell. That concert was my last. I fired my manager, I sold both my homes, all my cars and hoarded what was left of my wealth.

I went home to Philadelphia and bought a small townhouse. I go by my given name. At rush hour I take my guitar to Suburban Station and play for the passengers boarding the trains. Sometimes people look at me funny –like maybe I seem familiar or something. Nobody’s ever asked. The rest of the time I volunteer to teach music in after school programs for inner city kids. That’s where I met my girlfriend, Jill. She’s a teacher, too. And she’s the only one who knows my secret. I’m not sure how long my money will hold out, but for the first time in my life I am happy.

***

Self deprecating humor, solid advice

I decided to revisit a post I wrote back in 2016 and update it a little bit. When I started blogging, I used a self deprecating title and tagline to catch the reader’s eye —advice from WordPress’ Blogging 101 course. It was fun for a while, but in time I chose to make the blog more professional and eliminate the silliness. The blog was called: Meg Sorick Writes Better Than She Dresses and the tagline read: “She tried to look picturesque but only succeeded in being untidy.” To explain, here is the post I wrote in 2016:

Have you wondered what the deal is with the tagline for my blog: “She tried to look picturesque but only succeeded in being untidy?” It’s a quote from Oscar Wilde’s “A Picture of Dorian Grey” and refers to Victoria, Lord Henry Wotton’s wife. In the scene from which the quote was taken, Dorian is lounging around at Lord Henry’s house waiting for him when Victoria comes in. This is how the narrator describes her:

“She was a curious woman whose dresses always looked as if they had been designed in a rage and put on in a tempest. She was usually in love with somebody, and, as her passion was never returned, she had kept all her illusions. She tried to look picturesque, but only succeeded in being untidy.” There’s more of it, but that’s the bit I like.

I imagine you all read the blog title and the tagline and think to yourself, “that Meg must be a mess.” Well, not true, mostly. For one thing, I rarely wear dresses. Skirts, yes. I can match them with a black t-shirt. My friends and family do roll their eyes at me though, because I tend to wear the same or similar things all the time. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to look nice, I do. Those fitted black t-shirts from H&M are very flattering. And no I’m not too old to be shopping at H&M. Not for t-shirts, anyway. Besides, I am also cheap.

I guess I don’t easily tire of wearing the same things. I’ve always said I’d do well in an environment where someone told me what to wear. Like the army or prison, maybe. Frankly, it sure makes getting dressed in the morning easier and faster. I will not be the reason you are late getting out the door. Nevertheless, I assure you I am not untidy. I just really find those lines from ‘Dorian Grey’ amusing.

When you think of a writer, what image pops into your head? The disheveled man or woman, still in their bathrobe, sitting at the computer with coffee stains all over their notebooks and crumpled bits of paper strewn across the desk and overflowing the wastebasket? If you write full time, work from home and don’t actually have to see people face to face, would it be easy to slip into that habit? I think it could be. My office is in my home but seeing patients prevents me from sliding down that slippery slope of not bothering.

Imagine what that would do to one’s self esteem after a while. Not getting dressed, not fixing your hair or putting on makeup. Who cares? No one’s going to see me… That’s just one step away from: “I’m not worth it.” I wrote a post in December about treating your writing like a job. Making time for it, being disciplined so that it doesn’t get shoved onto the pile of unfulfilled dreams. Let this advice be another aspect of that discipline: Take care of yourself. Get up and stretch, get some exercise. Come home and shower and make yourself presentable. Wear perfume, just for yourself. Put on makeup so that when you walk by the mirror you won’t be terrified (ok, that’s just me, you probably look fine without makeup). Guys – shave (or at least groom, if your a beard guy), ditch the sweatpants and put on clean jeans and a nice shirt.

Don’t let your writing space turn into a dump, either. Granted, when you’re in the middle of a project, a certain amount of clutter is inevitable but don’t let it get out of hand. Wipe up the coffee stains, empty the wastebasket and whisk the crumbs off the keyboard. Wait till you see how much better that feels. You wouldn’t get away with that if it was your desk in an office building, right? Pretend that it is.

Will these habits help me find inspiration? Cure writer’s block? Help me edit more clearly? I say yes. Don’t believe me? Give it a try.