Why is perspective so important, not only in fiction?
I treated myself to a DVD ( I still buy them you know, can’t help it!) and settled down on Friday evening after a tough week’s work to watch ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ a film starring Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson and Eric Bana (nearly typed banana!) It is based on a book of the same title I read some time back by the talented historical novelist, Phillipa Gregory. On the front, the publicity quote states: ‘Simply Majestic’ The resume says and I quote:
‘A sumptuous and sensual tale of intrigue, romance and betrayal set against the backdrop of a defining moment in European history.’
and so on. I am a sucker for this kind of production and have even endured the derision of friends as I insisted on watching the bonk-busting Tudors series in its entirety (what a hoot!) I mean, intrigue, rimance and betrayal in an evening? What could possibly go wrong?
I would just like to say, however pretty this film was, however seemingly authentic in terms of look (yes, I admit it was beautiful) the casting and script was shocking, the characters unrealised and hence did not engage my sympathy and I finally went to bed feeling rather cheated. It was almost as if history was on fast forward and the company ran out of money and had Ann beheaded before she had even got into her stride; I didn’t care about her, or her sister and I didn;t feel like this when I read the novel.
However, what did intrigue me and is the whole point of this blog is the narrative perspective Gregory initially took in the original. It’s always interesting to see what was happening stage left, as it were. Think of Stoppard’s Rosencratz and Gulildernstern for example or The Girl With The Pearl Earing by Tracy Chevalier. Imagining what is also happening whilst the main action is being played out is always of concern. What happens in the palace kitchens, what do the chambermaids or ladies in waiting think? What about the gardeners who see the main characters come out into the grounds early in the morning thinking no one is around to see them; servants are invisible and they observe everything and can comment pertinently on the characters and events from a very left field point of view.
What about taking a familiar story and telling it from a different perspective, which has been done successfully so many times but still offers endless possibilities? Telling the same story from different characters is always fascinating. I love it when one character thinks one thing but it’s very obvious something else is really happening and the reader has the knowledge; oh the power! Rose Tremain’s Restoration is an example which traces 17th century Merivel’s journey for self knowledge.
History continues to be an inspirational treasure trove we can all use, but remember something overly constructed can lack passion and energy and can fail to capture your audience’s engagement and no matter how many beautiful stars or handsome leading men the viewer fails to care. The Play Maker by Thomas Kennealy, on the other hand about convicts rehearsing a play in 18th century Australia offers an original and riveting examination of that period. DH Lawrence is well known for narrative viewpoint and there are numerous books exploring this you might want to source.
So consider the following perhaps:
- Think carefully about the most original point of view and use it.
- Create three-dimensional and therefore believable characters – we need to know why they do something, what motivates them for example.
- Work hard to understand and present your characters’ emotions
- Use frustration to motivate your characters and drive the narrative. What did they do? What happened? How did they react? Conflict is always so engaging after all.
Things To Read If You Fancy Doing That Instead Of Writing
Elements of Fiction Writing – Characters & Viewpoint: Proven advice and timeless techniques for creating compelling characters by an award-winning author – Orson Scott Card
Write Great Fiction – Plot & Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting and Plot That Grips Readers from Start to Finish – James Scott Bell
Write Great Fiction – Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting Dynamic Characters and Effective Viewpoints – Nancy KressTags: elements of fiction writing, narrative arch, writers retreat