My favorite subject, above all else, is perspective. I love the complex reality that sometimes there is no right answer and action as well as inaction both have very grave consequences or favorable outcomes, depending on where you stand.
Every controversial topic ever discussed has two or more sides that stand at odds in a fight to prove their point of view is the “right” one. What makes you so sure that you know what is best for another individual? I have heard and read thousands of comments and concerns expressed about varying ideas for society, politics and government, foreign affairs, personal freedom debates and more. Moral conviction tends to be the primary reason behind a persons choices and the motivation to pursue their passions with persistence. I could talk endlessly on controversy because there is no single right answer, life is far more complex than that but I want to talk mostly about writing with perspective.
Why did you do what you did? Well, there is undoubtedly a reason, but is the answer as simple as revenge or more convoluted than that. For any action your characters make, you have to ask yourself what factors are involved in their decision, and if there are extenuating circumstances that cause them to deviate from their normal behaviors or personalities. Writing with perspective means not only considering different point of views as a reference, but picture yourself in their shoes with their histories and moral conviction guiding your choices. For instance, you might not know how to explain the traumatic experience from the victims points of view, because maybe you have never experienced it, but as an author you have to get the emotions and details as realistic as the world you have created. Make it realistic and write it from their perspective. That is not to say you should accept or practice a criminal lifestyle to write thrillers or mystery novels, obviously. Do not become your characters, just personify them in writing. As writers we have a unique disposition to tell both sides of the story without being personally involved or acquainted with them and the research required for experiences we have never had is a whole other topic I will get to another time.
Let me paint you a picture about perspective…
|—Start of Script—| You are kneeling- tears streaking your cheeks and the taste of salt on your lips- over the body of a woman whose features are soft and still. She was important to you and her body is lifeless, the soul ripped away by the cruel hands of death. You were too late to stop it, but you managed to catch the killer before they had time to flee. He’s tied and bound to a sturdy pipe at the far corner of the crime scene but his stone-cold eyes have not left the bloody scene where you are leaning over her mutilated corpse. You glance back in a furious rage and catch those steely eyes and your first thought is the bastard is reveling in this. Your thoughts so muddled by the shock of loss that you rush over and bring a knife to his throat with the intent to kill. Instantly your mind registers the severity of the threat you just made. Murder. Is it in you? Of course you’re not like him, you value life and have spent yours serving to protect those who cannot defend themselves from merciless killers like the scum before you. But… he killed her, he deserves it. You stumble backwards with your hand gripping your forehead, the knife clatters on the concrete flooring and you find yourself trembling with the stains of blood smeared across your clothes and hands. She’s lying cold somewhere behind you but you dare not look back, instead you look up and he’s staring above you, past you. The damned monster is staring at her. Was that a smile you saw? Enraged anew- your thoughts of honor and duty aside- you get to your feet. Suddenly there is a loud crash, splinters fly from the doorway and shouts can be heard storming the stairwell, hallway and finally the armed unit reaches you. Luckily, backup has arrived. They have removed your opportunity to try something foolish but that miserable guilt has yet to diminish. An hour later, you have been returned to headquarters and your partner is going to oversee the interrogation of the suspect. You, being so close to the situation, are forced to remain out of the way. Since you went against protocol in waiting before calling it in, on top of going in without backup, you’ll likely face questioning at some point. One of your other buddies that you work closely with just came out of the viewing room, they wanted you to know the suspect hasn’t said much, but they are insisting that they were not responsible for the girls death. “If he thinks he can get away with lying, he better think again.” you grate angrily. |— Pause in script—|
I am going to finish this in three different ways. The order you choose to read them in is up to you. On a personal note, I do not prefer to write or read in second-person but I really want you to imagine yourself witnessing this firsthand.
Ending 1) Several long hours pass and the interrogation has led to a new lead. Your agency is on it and checking viability of the suspects claims. It takes some time, but the pieces of the puzzle come together and your partner reports that the suspect found at the crime scene was framed. You have mixed feelings about this revelation because you saw him there, complacent to watch her bleed out. If he was framed he would have called 911, or fled, but he was crouched next to the body just waiting. As more information is uncovered, it turns out that the framed suspect was an agent from another agency working undercover on a lead for a connected case and he was in pursuit of a foreign operative when he came upon the crime scene. He was apparently studying the scene when you came in, gun poised to kill. There was no way to confirm the agents identity on the scene, but your anger almost led to undue murder and now his operation is even further behind. You assumed wrongly and imagined an enemy that you had yet to lay eyes on. Your actions may cost other innocent people their lives, but your boss and your partner does not blame you. You lost someone dear to you and what is done is done.
Ending 2) Your partner did it, the suspect broke on an immunity agreement and revealed the true intentions of his crimes as a small part of a bigger picture. According to the suspect, he had no choice but to cooperate because of a blackmail threat against his family if he failed to comply. There is a lot more at stake than just one life, but it does not change the misery you’ve had to tame for the sake of remaining collected. He killed her, and he will walk free. It is an unfair reality. You were right, if he was blackmailed and did not want part of this in the first place then how do you explain the smile you saw when he looked at her? You know deep down that this man has no right to walk after what he has done. Yet, no one is going to do a thing about it because that was the deal. All charges cleared to get information on the bigger picture.
Ending 3) You storm into the interrogation room, assaulting one of the other agents in the process. Raw fury drives you to grab the suspect by the collar and drive him against the wall with a force you did not know you were capable of. He looks you in the eye, almost accepting the fact that you want him dead. You reach for your gun and shove it hard into his side. “I saw what you did.” the suspect grunts and seconds later a loud shot rings out. You pulled the trigger. That son of a bitch won’t be able to weasel his way out now. It does not take long, your actions have turned even your partner against you. You are pinned down, handcuffs clink, the reading of your rights is barely audible over the cacophony inside your head. You can’t think clearly and you vaguely recall this happening at the crime scene. A fuzzy blur steals your vision and that’s it. After you’ve awakened from your blackout you find yourself strapped to a medical bed with a monitor set up. It is hard to take in, but the doctor explains that you have a severe medical issue. The Doctor said the condition has been causing blackouts and memory loss and your lawyer rises from a chair across the room. Your lawyer says that due to the nature of the condition, you might not be held responsible for your actions while in a black period. Confused and frightened by the implication you ask if you did something that you can’t recall. The doctor frowned and said nothing and your lawyer is trying to find the words but the struggle is plain on their face. Is everything you know a lie?
After reading that little short script, and each alternate ending, I hope you can see how easy it is to misconstrue a situation without all of the facts. This is also a good lesson on circumstance because the way in which a few small details played out, determined the final outcome for the main character. My main purpose with this demonstration was to show you how important perspective is in writing. If you can come up with three differing alternative endings for this one perspective, Imagine how reading this from the suspects perspective would shed a different light on the outcome of the story. In the first ending, the character imagined the other agent smiling and reveling in a bloody slaughter, but it turned out that the real criminal got away before either of the agents arrived on scene. In the second ending, the character was right in his instinct. The suspect was responsible, but there was more to it than what is seen at first glance. Perhaps the suspect did enjoy his assigned task, or maybe he was truthful in that he had to choose between a stranger and his family. In a situation like coerced murder, how can you blame the man for choosing his family over someone he will never see again? In the third ending, we see a complete 360 of the character because based on the little information we have in his perspective, it was difficult to piece together that he was the killer.
There are two things you can do with perspective to enhance a story. You can broaden it and reduce it and both are effective depending on the circumstances. If you want to create surprise, you can limit perspective by keeping it to a single and biased point of view. For a similar result, you can also broaden the range of perspectives to share limited chunks of information from each one. If you are wanting to tease your readers with useful hints of information throughout the story, you need to consider how point of view will limit or contribute to the amount of knowledge the reader discovers as time goes on. Perspective can be a strategic thing used to manipulate the direction of the story and conceal the truth until the very last minute and a writer is never limited to one method.
This concludes the first part of Perspective.