Forced Perspective

In photography and cinematography, forced perspective is a technique that uses optical illusion to make an object look closer/larger or farther away/smaller than it actually is.

But this post is not about that sort of forced perspective.

I like to tell stories from a particular character’s viewpoint. I enjoy sticking with that one character through the chapter (or story), and relating his or her feelings to the reader through events, dialogue, and description. But everything that is seen, heard, or experienced in the story is how it relates to that particular character. An over-the-shoulder perspective, if you will.

I hate narratives that jump around from perspective to perspective – especially within a single chapter! – because it tends to leave me feeling like just an observer, and less invested in what’s happening to those characters. Some writers can get away with this multiple-perspective technique. It’s hard for me, though.

Get invested with your characters. Keep them close.

I like learning about a character through their triumphs and tragedies. Even though I know where that character will end up (usually), I love learning about him or her through telling their story. Perhaps it’s a crutch to fall into the same storytelling style for most of my work, but it’s also what I enjoy.

Here’s an example of what I mean:

She wasn’t the cool, salty sea that had filled his waking and dreaming senses from the moment of his birth, that much was true. She couldn’t slip frictionless through his fingers, or buoy him through careless mistakes that sent him tumbling from his board, or let him glide across her blue depths, like a bird skimming the tips of its wings through the froth.

But then, the sea didn’t warm him on chilled nights. It didn’t smell like jasmine or strawberries or mint, depending on its mood. It didn’t change its taste, either, from cool and creamy, to hot and bitter, and anything in between. And it couldn’t fill his arms, so soft and supple and warm, or cuddle him close in return. Amber was the only one who could do that.

Amber was the only one he wanted to do that.

I don’t think I could tell the same story I want to tell using a different narrative technique. Readers might want to know what’s going on in another character’s head, but I like keeping a bit of mystery. I go through my own life not knowing what other people think. Why not write stories the same way?

What’s your preferred storytelling perspective? Why?

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5 Comments

Filed under Excerpts, Process, WIP: Fearless

5 responses to “Forced Perspective

  1. I also like the mystery, and sometimes, I need to get into the other characters’ heads so that I know why they’re behaving the way they are in order to write them out. I sometimes end up accidentally writing how they feel when I’m supposed to stick in one character’s perspective, but I have been catching myself on it.

    Instead, what I do end up doing is getting a main character who is more perceptive. S/he somehow has this intuition on how the others are feeling most of the time, and uses that to remedy what’s wrong or share in the person’s joy. Of course, in reverse, the character just ends up feeling like the others don’t care as much about him/her as s/he does about them, but it’s still an interesting process to write.

    The reason why I tend to have my characters so perceptive like that is because I kind of am like that, too. I can feel when someone’s pissed while smiling, or when they’re joking when they sound enraged. Of course, I’m not always on the dot, but I can at least somewhat feel that something’s a little off.

    • Thanks for commenting, spooney.

      I think a lot of it depends on how you interpret that perspective. Some people write that equal-omniscient voice very well, and the flow from character is seamless. It’s rare, though, at least in my travels. More often, perspective shifts feel jarring when not occurring by a break (e.g., in chapter or scene). I have an ongoing discussion with another writer friend about the proper placement for these breaks…but those dialogues often turn into arguments about the purpose of chapters. :D

      Thanks again for such thoughtful comments. I do always like to hear different points of view on these sorts of things.

      • Last quarter, we read a book called “Between Shades of Gray” (not “Fifty” but “Between”). The professor asked us about who the narrator was, and naturally, we all saw that, since it was in the first person POV, we said that it was the main character. He then pointed out that the narrator would switch between three entities of the main character: The Lina that was living the story, the Lina who was looking back from a future time while telling the story, and the Lina who was the artistic narrator entity beyond the other two (I can’t remember how it worked, but it made sense then). We never really noticed it until he pointed it out, but the way it was written wasn’t jarring at all.

        You would have Present Lina, who was living the story, and suddenly it would switch to Artist Lina, who would use artistic description on scenery or events. At times, Future Lina would come in and make it sound like she was telling the story from years after the events, describing one scene with a train slowing down as “bleeding speed.”

        It was almost everyone’s favorite book that quarter, even mine! And you know that I’m tired of 1st person POV!

  2. Ooh boy, I always get on my high horse with this topic. I don’t mind multiple POVs, as long as they are used carefully and not mixed up together. Each POV has its own special moment, IMO.

    I am anti-POV switching. I can’t handle it when I’m in one character’s head and suddenly I’m somewhere else. I don’t mind the switches if they happen per chapter, or even in the same chapter–as long as there is a sufficient break in between the two characters. So, the scene would have to change. But in the same paragraph or the same sentence? Ouch! No. Because I lose track of whose moment that is. Forget about whose story it is for a second, but that moment needs to belong to one person. Two people can’t legitimately share the POV of the same moment. If it is necessary to show two or more perspectives of one moment, then separate the scenes so that it’s clear to the reader that first we have A’s feelings, now in a new scene we get B’s feelings.

    As for me, the most number of varied POVs I have ever done is 2, but I don’t use them simultaneously. They each have their own story, own chapter, and if they’re together in the same scene, only one of them gets to tell it. The other one can reflect on it, but later, in a new chapter.

    Yup, head-hopping drives me up the wall.

    • Wow, yes.
      I have an ongoing conversation with a friend of mine, whose mother is a writer/folklorist, and – until him – I had always thought I was weird for using breaks to switch POV. So many other writers within my circle were switching like crazy, saying that, because they were telling using 3rd-omniscient, it was okay. Like you, I’d sit there and think, Wait. Who’s talking, this time? It’s just so jarring, in most cases.

      It’s related to the conundrum I have about chapter length, too. Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October really drove home for me the point that chapters really work when they focus on one POV at a time.

      Thanks for sharing, Kate. It’s a relief to know I’m not the only one who gets a bee in my bonnet over this one! :D

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