In my last post, I wrote about how perspective-taking is a skill everybody needs and uses. It's essential for social interaction and establishing relationships. It's how we relate to one another.
Today, I'm going to talk about how perspective-taking is a must for writing. It is crucial to authors. It's easier and more difficult to take a character's perspective. First of all, they are made up, they are created, they are imaginary. How do you relate to an imaginary character? How can you consider their thoughts and feelings?
You created them for a purpose, to act in certain ways and do certain things, and yet they must have their own motivations. They must have thoughts and feelings, reasons for acting the way they do, or else they will fall flat. They won't feel alive to the reader. Even the villains need good reasons for the things they do. Why do they hurt people? What in their past has made them act like this? How might we all come to such evil actions, if circumstances were different?
The best writers do this well. Their characters feel alive. Indeed, sometimes a character can become so alive, they do things the writer doesn't expect. That might sound crazy but it's true. They can take a life of their own, and if they do, the writer is doing their job. You can't force a character to do things. You can create the motivation and the reasons they do them, though. It's a writer's job. Humans do things for a reason. Something motivates them, something makes them think it is what they should do. Characters should be the same way.
The best villains are the ones we relate to. The ones we realize we could become, if our positions were reversed. They are also the most troubling. See the situation from your hero's point of view before you make him save the day. Why is he saving the day, besides the obvious? Why fight or struggle?
If you're rushing through a draft of a story, it's okay to ignore things, but you can't forever. You have to go back, view the character's actions, and ensure they have good reasons for doing so, even if those reasons only seem good to that character.
Get some perspective.
Monday, August 12, 2013
"Perspective Taking" is a phrase used to mean, essentially, seeing things from another person's point of view. It's taking another's perspective in a situation. Imagining how they feel, what they think, and why they do the things they do.
We treat it as a skill in special education. It's something we try to teach to students who tend to have a very difficult time with it. It's something we learn, growing up. It's how we make connections with others and make friends. It's how we know how to act around others. It's essential for meaningful social interaction.
Some students find it hard to do. It takes imagination. Some students simply can't understand how to think like someone else, or consider how someone else feels. They are too focused on themselves, and don't see the need to care about what others are thinking. They don't see the need to understand why someone did something.
It can be difficult to see things outside of our own perspective. (I think many adults have trouble with this as well, else why do strangers get so mad at eachother so fast, over little things?)
Understanding our own feelings and why we feel them is difficult enough. How can we expect to know why someone else did this or that?
The truth is we can't. Not for sure. It's why we ask so many questions. How are you feeling? Why did you do this? We can't know for certain why someone does something unless we ask, but asking isn't always an option. So what do we do? We guess. We guess all the time. We guess this person did this or that, for this reason. We might not be right all the time, but the more we guess, the better we get at it. Perspective taking takes guessing. That's part of what's so hard about it.
It's also hard because to take someone elses' perspective, you have to care about them in some way. If you don't care, there's no point in understanding them. We should care, though, even if it's just because it's a fellow human being. That's not so easy, all the time. There are many times we'd rather not care or understand, but we should try.
Perspective taking doesn't just help us understand why someone acted a certain way, it helps us realize other people aren't so different from us. If we put ourselves in their situation, we can see that maybe, just maybe, we would have acted the same way, and if we would have acted the same way in the same situation, how can we judge or be angry with them?
We're all similar beings. We want and need certain things, all being pushed and pulled by the various different forces acting in our lives.
I'm not saying we need to forgive and forget everybody for every act they commit. But at least we can forgive the small things. The person slow in traffic, the guy who cuts you off, the girl who bumps into you, etc. It seems to me that whenever someone inconveniences us, even in a small way, we respond with anger, like 'what the fuck is this person doing'. We don't think about them or consider why they may have done it, they're a stranger so we immediately call them douchebags in our minds. We'll give friends and family the benefit of the doubt, but not a stranger. Why is that?
Why let a little thing infuriate you when the person who did it wasn't trying to ruin your day?
Can't we understand that Shit Happens and people make mistakes. Accidents happen. Let it go.
Here's an example. I bought chicken from Whole Foods the other day. It's a ten-minute walk from where I live. We were going to cook it for dinner. Open the package and it smells like rotten eggs. Bad news. Bring it back, manager apologizes, I just ask for another package the same size and he says no problem. I get a new package, bring it home, it also smells bad. At this point, I'm pretty fucking pissed off. I could have gone back and yelled at the dude, blah blah blah, made a whole scene and really ruined his day. I didn't. I brought it back, asked to get the same amount fresh from the butcher and the manager apologized numerous times, said that would be fine, and that was the end of it.
I might have gotten more if I had made a scene. Maybe I would have gotten a gift card or something. I don't know. I do know I probably would have made some people feel shitty and probably would have felt like shit myself for doing so. I don't like making people feel bad, even if they might deserve it. I can't really yell at someone who apologizes and seems genuine about it. I know how shitty dealing with customers or patrons is. I was a bouncer and people treated me like shit about doing my job and about things I couldn't change or wasn't in charge of.
I fucking hated it.
Who was I supposed to yell at, at Whole Foods? The manager for not knowing the chicken went bad before the sell-by date? The butchers who are genuinely friendly and nice every time I go there? It's not like they intentionally gave us bad chicken. I got good chicken, cooked and ate it. The dude apologized. No big deal. No reason to scream at someone.
You know what I appreciated as a bouncer? The nice people, who were friendly even if they had to wait in line for awhile. They made my night so much better. That's a difference we can all make. Be nice and friendly, especially to people who deal with people day in and day out. It can make somebody's day that much better.
Alot of girls and guys thought they knew about me and my job as a bouncer but they didn't know shit. You might not know shit about someone else so try to give them the benefit of the doubt, as much as you can. Treat them like you would a friend. Treat them decently.
Take someone else's perspective.
I think everyone should work in a job where they have to deal with people. Restaurant, retail, nightclub, customer service, etc. That gives you some fucking perspective. Then maybe people wouldn't treat folks, who are just doing their job, like shit.
I was going to go into how Perspective-Taking is especially an important skill for writing, but I think I will write a second blog post for that.
I guess the message is...try to be nice and shit? It's better than being angry all the time.