Three Perspectives on Your Writing

Hello, everyone!

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a blog on the RSS and I’m happy to be back. Late 2016/early 2017 was rough for me, but I made it. Right? That’s the perspective you must take sometimes when you drive through the rain.

Hey, I’m going to talk about perspective today. This month I’ll be doing a workshop at RWA with Winnie Griggs called Through the Lens which will deal with POV. In talking about POV with Winnie (as we fervently scribbled notes on what exactly we needed to cover), Winnie said, “I’d like to tackle perspective.” To which I said, “That will be good. Like what do you mean?” She went on to talk about two areas of perspective, to which I added a third. So let’s look at those:

Writer’s Perspective – This is the lens the writer uses in writing her/his stories. This includes world views, cultural mores, beliefs, region, etc. Essentially, who you are comes out in your writing. And it’s not necessarily your voice. Voice can be learned (to a degree). Say, I want to write funny, vampy, comedy but I’m a more serious kinda gal. Well, I can learn to apply a tone/mood to my writing and create a voice that is light, fun, and comedic. But who I am as a person will come through in the way I write characters, the way they handle situations, even the verbiage used in telling the story. This definitely shades voice. I mean, who you are, what you believe, your social conscience, your values, etc, will often leak into your story. Is this bad? Not really. It makes your storytelling individualistic. But it can have a negative effect if you use your story as a platform. How many times have you read a story and felt preached at? Raise your hand.

Now, put it down.

Hands holding a digital SLR camera with zoom digital lens. BW

LOL. See? We’ve all read something where we thought, “Is she trying to get something across here?”

In my opinion (yeah, I know you’re not supposed to write that because it’s understood) in commercial fiction, you want to be VERY careful doing this. If you don’t mind alienating half of your audience, by all means, write on with the intent of making your point. Just know before you go…uh, there.

Character’s Perspective – This is the lens the writer uses in portraying a character. It’s pretty much the most important of the perspectives because it’s the heart of your story. A good story is only as good as its characters? True? I think so. Creating believable, multi-dimensional characters is, well, a must. But your characters have to have different perspectives, right? They can’t all think and operate the same. So it makes sense that you do some legwork when it comes to character perspective. First, you have to know your characters. For many writers, that doesn’t occur until they are well into writing the book (I’m raising my hand here). Other writers carefully prepare background information on their characters. They analyze, question (hello, character interview), mull and muse over who their characters are before they even write the first word in Chapter One. There’s no right or wrong…as long as you intentionally make sure you have given your characters fleshed-out perspective. Some things to consider:

  • background – family history, events that have molded your character
  • origin – where your character is from says a lot about him/her
  • tragedy/events/nonevents
  • relationships
  • profession
  • personality
  • goals, motivations, conflicts (I ALWAYS do this chart after chapter three – it’s my spirit guide)

Once you consider a character’s perspective (essentially all the parts that make your character your character), you can more easily navigate your story and create authenticity in your characters’ actions and thoughts.

Reader’s Perspective – Ah, here’s the thing you can’t control – the way your reader reacts to your story. This has been the biggest hurdle for me as a people pleaser. I want people to like my book and my characters. But the thing is, you can’t control what the reader brings to the table. You can’t anticipate his or her perspective. He or she may have triggers that your book pulls inside them. Your characters may have a name, profession, hair color that they don’t like. The reader’s personal experiences color their perspective when they read your book. They can’t help it. It’s who they are, and you darn sure ain’t changing that. So you will have people who will say absurd things about your writing. You will have people misunderstand your intent. You will have people cast aspersions on your character based on how you write a fictional character. Crazy, right? I mean, according to one reviewer I wrote a misogynist man so bad that I (the writer) must be a man…or not understand men at all. And let me tell you, friends, I’m surrounded by testosterone (It’s me and my mama against a force of Southern redneck men). But to this reviewer, I didn’t get men. Or at least, I didn’t get her version of what a man should be. 

On the other hand, I’ve had readers bring their perspective and totally “get” my characters because they’ve lived through whatever my characters are going through. One of the best things you can get is a note from a reader who identified so much with your character that he/she LOVES the book. I can’t tell you how many people have reached out to say “thank you” for writing a character who says that or does this or goes through this, all because the reader could relate to the character. They felt they were validated because a character I wrote “was them.”

One thing I would like to note regards writing with unbarred authenticity. Writing “real” characters means oftentimes including the realness (or ugliness) of life. This leaves an author open to being accused of misogyny, racism, “slut shaming” or intolerance. If you’re dealing with sensitive topics like race, religion, politics, etc, it would be wise to get some beta reads or hire a sensitivity reader as suggested by Lizzie Shane in this post. At least be aware that readers bring a vast array of beliefs with them. You have to decide whether you ignore those sensibilities and write your characters completely flawed, or whether you temper your character’s actions, thoughts or speech to reflect a more tolerant leaning. 

Just prepare yourself for readers bringing their own baggage to your story. Have luggage tags ready 🙂 

Now you have three perspectives to consider as you write. Some you can control; others you can’t. So I’m interested in your thoughts about perspective. Do you think about your character’s perspectives? Do you find you bleed yourself into your character’s too much? Have some good stories about readers who hated your stories because of a character’s (or your) perspective didn’t match up with theirs?

19 responses to “Three Perspectives on Your Writing”

  1. Great post, Liz.

    Raising hand. I’ve deleted a few soap boxes scenes. We can write our beliefs though our characters but in genre fiction we do need to be careful not to offend others. Vivi, did a wonderful blog on cultural differences a few weeks ago which touches on this topic. Our readers to escape the realities of life.

    As far as characters, I do a general sketch for each, including their GMC, but I don’t think I really know them until I’ve written them and learned how they react to the developments in the story. Everyone has their process and they all work.

    • I worry sometimes that I am too soap-boxy. Readers do want to escape, and I knew with my last release that there would be some who didn’t like what the story I was choosing to tell and would think I should get the hell off my soap box. I was waiting for my first “Hell, no” review, but when it came it was actually quite gentle, all things considered. 🙂

      • Liz talley says:

        Yeah, it’s hard to walk that line. Because sometimes there are opportunities to make an impact. As writers we can only hope that the place we write from is authentic and readers who disagreed or feel annoyed can at least see that. I’ve had plenty of misinterpretations and plenty of times I climbed to the other side and saw my character, scene, dialogue through a different perspective. I’ve learned from some of those comments that it’s a big, big world with lots and LOTS of viewpoints.

  2. Heh. I’m probably one of those writers who make you feel preached at – at least with a couple of my books. I try very hard to put good into the world rather than highlighting or tacitly endorsing negative stuff simply because it happens in real life. If it’s unjust or backward, I want my characters to think that or learn it.

    I think you can separate author perspective and character perspective to an extent (goodness knows my characters do a lot of things I would never do), but any time your protagonist does something and isn’t smacked in the face by the plot (either figuratively or literally) for doing or thinking it then you are giving authorial consent. You are saying it’s okay for a good guy to behave that way.

    You can’t control what a reader brings to the book, but you can control the message of your book – and step one is being aware of the messages we send by tacitly endorsing behavior through our characters.

    At least that’s my take on it. It is a fascinating and complicated topic. I love it. 🙂 Thanks, Liz.

    • I agree with you, Vivi. The lesson that everyone should take responsibility for their actions must be shown.

    • Liz talley says:

      That’s a good point and one that often comes back to haunt an author. And the deal is, people’s version of what is right or wrong varies according to their own histories. This is something I’ve learned the hard way because I have only my perspective born from my experiences. Oftentimes I don’t “see” a particular issue. Say for example, the time I compared my hero to an Aztec god. Never crossed my mind that would offend someone. But it did. It’s hard to project what others might bring to the table when they read your book. This is why a sensitivity reader has such value, especially if a writer is tackling a sensitive issue, as you did in your latest book.

    • Perhaps I’m feeling a bit feisty these days or perhaps I’ve been reading too much challenging lit fic lately, but I struggle with message-driven fiction. My job as an author is to peel back the onion–of character and of story–and often times that’s messy and smelly and to some, offensive.

      And yes, in genre fiction I expect the hero to act heroically and good to overcome evil, but I don’t want a “scrubbed” or “sanitized” read. Nor do I want the author slamming me over the head with a hammer. I want authenticity and truth from the author, and then I want to complete the storytelling cycle and absorb/feel/react as a reader. Does that make sense??

      Indeed, Sisters Liz and Viv, a fascinating and complicated topic!

  3. jbrayweber says:

    Wonderful post, Liz!

    I one of those authors that writes true to the character—the good, the bad and the ugly. But I don’t believe I have ever preached about anything in my stories. Perhaps it is because I mostly write historical romance. I haven’t had anyone call foul, other than to say they didn’t like a particular trope. I mean, historical social norms can’t be changed and do not represent much of today’s social norms (though that could be argued, I suppose, geographically).

    While I do try to be sensitive to readers by toning down a character’s behaviors/beliefs in conjunction to the era with which the lived (which may or may not be my own) I’m not going to spend a lot of time worrying if I’m going to offend someone. People then and now come in all shapes and shades. As mentioned, I can’t control what the reader brings to the table. Everyone has their own triggers. Everyone has their own views or ways of dealing with topics that may be touchy for them. I can’t be responsible for that. Ultimately, my goal as an author is to give an escape with a pretty HEA attached. Don’t like the book or characters? Put it down and find something else that suits you.

    Seriously, great topic!


    • Liz Talley says:

      In what you write, I would suspect that authenticity is very much expected by your audience. Writing historical is somehow even harder because we know that the world was very different back then for women, people of color and LTGBs. So you’re balancing authentic tough situations with modern expectations. That’s hard to do.

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts 🙂

  4. Great post, Liz, as it got me thinking, particularly about the Reader Perspective. While we can’t control what individual readers bring to the story experience, I think we as authors are very aware of our readers COLLECTIVELY.

    In his superb autobiography, ON WRITING, Stephen King talks about the “ideal reader.” He challenges writers to imagine who our ideal reader is, what she will like/not like, and how she will react to various story elements. This is such a powerful exercise. Thanks for the reminder of the importance of Reader Perspective!

    • Liz Talley says:

      That’s true. We do have to picture our ideal readers – that’s who we’re trying to appeal to. Unfortunately, some not so ideal readers read of books too. Darn it. LOL.

  5. I love the part about Reader’s perspective too. And I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately–especially about racism.

    My last YA was a modern-day Pride & Prejudice between a white “trailer-trash” girl and the son of wealthy Indian immigrants. So there are undercurrents of racism and classism in the book. Southern readers often say “The author has too much racism in this book. It’s not that bad here.” Readers from outside the South say “The author had the opportunity to tackle racism, and she chickened out. NC is in the South; there must be more racism there.”

    And like many of you have said here, I can’t control the perspectives that readers bring–including their assumption about other regions. So I’ve just had to learn to let it go and trust that most readers will accept that I wrote as authentically as possible.

    • Liz Talley says:

      Hmm…sounds like a group of squabbling kids sometimes, doesn’t it. We know we’ll never please everyone but it sure is hard to accept that particular fact.

      Racism and sexism are such hot-button topics that it feels better to avoid them…but then we reflect a world that’s not real, right? We definitely walk the tightrope in our struggle to write real stories that make people think…and not give you a one star because the reader is offended by your describing the hero as an Aztec god. LOL.

  6. Great way to break it down! I work hard to stay in my characters’ perspective only. I don’t want my agenda to ever interfere with the story. I hate when I’m reading a book and I hear the author’s voice butt in and try to get a point across. You’re so right to warn against that. Readers will pick it up right away.
    Thanks, as always, for your writerly advice!!

    • Liz Talley says:

      Yep. I don’t like preachiness or a book in which the author pushes her world views in an obvious manner. If I feel preached at, I’m annoyed. Thanks, Jennifer!

  7. I’m so guilty, especially on my first draft. I don’t like it when an author gets preachy, not why I’m reading fiction, and I always have to guard against it. Thanks for the post, Liz!

  8. Liz Talley says:

    Sure thing, Bev. I think it’s good to talk about these sort of issues.

  9. […] Three Perspectives on Your Writing  by Liz Talley […]


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