The Eye Versus The Lens – Character Development In Writing
On my daily walk today I began to think about the concept of looking at a character through a different ‘lens’. My thoughts then turned to looking through my own eyes versus the possibility of changing the lens through which I view other people. This thought actually popped into my head because I was thinking about a girl.
This is a girl that grew up under the watchful eyes of many, myself included. Beginning at an early age she would dress flamboyantly, often wearing brightly colored, mismatched clothing. She was also somewhat socially awkward by general societal standards. These judgmental reactions on my part seemed appropriate at the time, yet now this girl is a young lady, so I can relate to her in a more adult way. I began to consider my previous judgements of her, suddenly finding myself with a new perspective on what she was trying to accomplish. Her early desire as an adolescent to be outwardly creative manifested itself in a very powerful way. It said to her peers, “Do not approach me in the guise of friendship if you are not comfortable eschewing the constricts of accepted social order.” This turned into an explosion of realization as I continued my perambulations.
Why had I thought of this acquaintance before as a ‘kooky kid’, only now to consider her a creative, thoughtful and empowered young lady? The thunderbolt then came clear to me. When she was a young girl, I had judged her based exclusively upon my own station in the social construct. To me she was just ‘that weird child’. In other words, I was seeing her through my own eyes, disregarding all else. I’m not embarrassed by this, because humans are hard wired to make quick judgements of people around them for survival reasons. Once our assessment of a person shows that they pose no threat us, we begin the unconscious process of pigeon-holing them. These pigeon-holes are constructs we can understand quickly, but they do tend to be a teeeeeeny weeeeeeny bit biased… (cue the sarcasm card).
Skinhead. Hopeless romantic. Kindred spirit. Junkie. Bum.
Often this is where we stop considering the person, but as writers we can not afford to do that. Why? Well… The skinhead probably has a history that would be of great interest to me. The hopeless romantic probably has insights into how her own friends relate to her. The kindred spirit becomes a lifelong friend because we share so many interests. The junkie and the bum will certainly have a backstory worth listening to- after all, no one starts out their life thinking “I want to be a junkie; or maybe a bum.”.
So my walk is coming to an end, I can see my house from here. What changed for me? Why am I now reassessing that ‘kooky little girl’ as a ‘creative, self-confident young lady’? Simply put, I changed the lens through which I observed. This is a critical distinction from using my eye alone.
My eye is attached to my brain, very closely in fact. It takes in valuable information and helps me sort through my world. This is great from a survival perspective, but it’s useless in sizing up a personality. For that I need to dig in deeper. Am I suggesting that every single person you encounter in your day should be subjected to an in-depth interview? Well, yes and no. No because you would never get any of your work done. Yes because when you begin to reinterpret these people in your mind, you will most likely come away with a better understanding of them, yourself, and ultimately the characters you create on paper.
To this day I rarely speak to this girl, she is the daughter of some friends. We have very little in common outside of our coincidental existence and our use of opposable thumbs. My point is, when I look at her through a different lens I see infinite potential in what she might mean to a character. It is well beyond the scope of reality to hope that I might become a little girl in the USA, now that I’m an old fart of a guy teaching myself to write novels. My eyes are fixed now, and so many of my judgements are too. Yet when I teach myself to refocus, to alter my perspective, to change the lens through which I observe; that is indeed where the magic resides.
Thoughts? Comments? Do you have a similar epiphany to share? ~TH~