Thursday, January 14, 2010

Posted by Laurel Garver on Thursday, January 14, 2010 12 comments
Perspective

In art, perspective drawing is a set of techniques that make a flat surface appear to be three dimensional. Everything in the drawing is anchored to a vanishing point in the distance. The objects closest to the artist's vantage point will loom larger than those at a remove. Perspective drawings don't show objects in their entirety; parts are distorted, made wider or more slender, to create the optical illusion.

You might ask how this relates to writing. I think it's an apt metaphor for what writers attempt in portraying life. We're the artist standing at a vantage point, who must see which elements are most prominent and draw them large on the canvas. We then draw the less important details in their proper place in the mid-ground or background. Elements take their shape based on how they relate to the vanishing point, or in writing, the "throughline," pulse, drive, goal or quest that your main character is aiming toward.

Perspective in autobiographical writing is difficult to achieve. I can't easily identify what the "vanishing point" is in my own life--the quest of this leg of my journey. I also can't easily get to a vantage point where I can see which life events should loom large and which ones should fade into the distance. Reaching that vantage point requires the passing of time, maturity, wisdom and a great deal of reflection.

How might the perspective metaphor help your writing? Have you reached a vantage point with any of your life experiences so that you now feel competent to write them? If so, how did you know you'd arrived?

12 comments:

  1. Hmm... I really like the metaphor and it definitely got my wheels spinning.

    I was (sort of) thinking about this the other day. I was wondering what my story would have been like if I wrote it before "the thing that happened to me" had happened, and how it would have been different, and not as interesting, and not as deep or as moving or as... anything.

    But, what if I waited five years. How might the story change? How might the ending change? What plot twists would I live out?

    I mean, I feel that I have my vantage point, but I know that my novel will have an ambiguous end... because the story of my own Laurel isn't necessarily over on the last page.

    I guess to answer your question, I am not sure I don't know how I arrived at my vantage point. Maybe it was at my wedding. Although, I think that the marriage itself could become volume two. :)

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  2. I don't know if I have enough perspective, yet, but I'm diving in regardless. Perhaps in the writing of this novel, I'll find some perspective that I was lacking. The creative process is strange like that sometimes.

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  3. Wow, this is fascinating. Sometimes in real life, we magnify events present or past based on our life experiences--our pain, grief, fear. So in writing, I would think the characters would do the same. But other characters would have more objective viewpoint.
    The writer would have the tricky job of keeping that balanced if it were based on something autobiographical. There are people in my life I can not write about and do not know that I ever could.

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  4. It's all about perspective. This really gives me food for thought. Thank you for such a wonderful post Laurel.

    I don't think I'll ever write an autobiography, but this applies to all writing. Because we become our characters. And they might write one. Also, I do want to write a book for my son Christopher. Based on his life. :-)

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  5. I think this is why I write MG. Elementary school was a long time ago and I can separate myself from my characters. I don't think I write anything autobiographical, but it might be more tempting if I wrote about teenagers or adults.

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  6. This speaks to me. I'm knee deep in plotting out my next novel and I want to get all of the elements right. What a clever analogy.

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  7. Amber: Your thought about "what if I waited 5 years?" is really intriguing. New life experiences do help us make sense of old ones.

    Glad this got you thinking in a way that hopefully will help you shape your story.

    Simon: the practice of writing can be a way of reflecting deeply, of seeking the vantage point.

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  8. Tricia: Interesting thought. I'm wrangling with the perspective issue in my current WIP because the character misinterprets her own experiences a lot. Yes, there are others who help her sort it out, but no one of them has total vantage point privelege. Because that isn't realistic.

    Robyn: Hmmm, character autobiograhy. I like that idea very much. Writing for your son, from your vantage point, might be very comforting to him.

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  9. Natalie: I noticed in some strange confluence of events, we BOTH posted something about "perspective" yesterday. Your preference for MG based on memory and distance makes total sense to me.

    T. Anne: glad to be of help. I was kind of "thinking out loud" about how to revise in a way that the throughline was pulsing in every scene. I realised this stuff I learned in HS art classes had a strong resonsance with what I needed to do.

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  10. Great question and a most interesting analogy! Well, I can definitely say I've reached a few vantage points in my life where I've been able to look back and see certain areas of my life looming larger--or having had a greater significance than I would have thought at the time I was going through them.

    And how do I know this? Well, I guess it's because I experienced an "ah-ha" moment when I look back at them. It's like when you're able to fit the last puzzle piece into the puzzle and say, okay, I get it. NOW everything make sense.

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  11. Hi Holly, thanks for the follow. I'm still waiting for that ah-ha moment you describe so well. I often wonder if it's something to strive for, by putting great effort into understanding and sifting through one's experiences, or does it just happen, a gracious gift?

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  12. I am completing my first autobiographical novel and would love someone to take a look at it, via agent or contest. Any ideas? For me to write this book, I had the added advantage of a journal I've kept (and still keep) for over 35 years (no kidding!). I developed my novel around the story format, complete with protagonist, conflict, and resolution. It's a great read, and I hope I can get it "out there."

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