Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Posted by Laurel Garver on Tuesday, February 15, 2011 16 comments
Black Squirrel_0486


A friend from Texas visited my neighborhood and saw a fellow just like this scamper across the street and up a tree.

"What the heck was that thing?" he asked.

"A squirrel," I said.

"Yeah, but it's...black. Like some kind of crazy fluff-tailed ninja."

My friend's outsider perspective made our local nature oddity a whole lot cooler than, say, a park guide might. The guide would give you a lot of dry facts about how melanistic squirrels are a subgroup of the eastern gray squirrel that developed darker fur to better hide in dense northern forests and stay warmer in cold winters. Sorry, but ya-awn.

This contrast an important thing to keep in mind as you make decisions about how you will go about describing your setting, and through whose eyes details will be filtered. The local character might know a deeper, more detailed history, but the outsider will always give you the colorful twist on what's most unique in your setting. Not a dull science lesson on genetic adaptation, but fluff-tailed ninjas.

What's unique about your setting? How could outsider perspective make it just a little bit cooler?

16 comments:

  1. Wow. First, I'm from the same area you are, and I think I would have the same reaction as your friend! I've never seen one of these squirrels--more maybe I just never noticed. Oops! As for the different perspective on setting- awesome. I really never thought about it before--how the outsider would view it differently, therefore the description should be different. Once again Laurel, I've learned so much from you! Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Ha! I love that. Furry-tailed ninja. Now I'm getting images of squirrels with katana, bursting from the shadows to cut down feral dogs in the neighborhood.... :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Excellent point. We have ninja squirrels, too. They really stand out on these white days.

    ReplyDelete
  4. This is a great post! Characters are not all very knowledgeable about everything in the story, and so their unknowing can provide a new, fresh way of seeing.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Great post! We just have boring brown squirrels where we live and I remember getting all excited the first time I saw a black one.

    Once, during a writing workshop, I talked about how I never wanted to write about where I'm from. "Who wants to read about Cleveland?" I said. But the instructor assured me that people like to experience places they've never been. What seems boring and mundane to me is exciting and new to an outsider!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Haha, what a great way to describe that kind of squirrel! Awesome post. This is a great reminder to put ourselves in another person's shoes when walking around our setting!

    ReplyDelete
  7. This is really good advice... making the unique stand out in your setting. There will always be something different in each place that you visit. =)

    Thank you for sharing this!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Furry-tailed ninja! Awesome. It's a really good advice here. Taking a step back is a good idea.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Very good point you've made. Also, I just saw one of those squirrels for the first time last year, and I thought the same thing -- what is this, a ninja squirrel? Too cute.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I've been working on the same story for so long, it's hard to get outside of it for a new perspective. I'll have to think about that!

    ReplyDelete
  11. That is the freakiest thing I've ever seen! Real details like that make a story!

    ReplyDelete
  12. Kelly: If you read the Wikipedia article, you'll see that this genetic mutation appears in pockets of the squirrel population in many places. The part of Fairmount Park above Wissahickon Creek, where my neighborhood is tucked, has one such pocket.

    Simon: Ha! My friend actually made the comment years ago, and it still sticks with me every time I see one of our tulip-bulb-stealing ninjas scampering about.

    Mary: The dark fur helps them absorb more warmth from the sun. Clever ninjas!

    ReplyDelete
  13. Jade: Locals get habituated to an environment--outsiders will notice the special, unique things in a setting most.

    Lisa: Most of us feel that our hometown is the dullest place on earth. It takes perspective to see afresh what is unique about it. But as your prof says, you have some insider perspective on things in your town that aren't readily seen by an outsider.

    Laura M.: It is a colorful image that sticks with me years after first hearing it. Outsider perspective can help you find that kind of zingy idea too.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Tessa: As much a the strip-mall-ization of America seems to homogenize everything, it's still possible to find local color if you look hard.

    Holly: Take it as an incentive to entertain, so you can steal all your guests' best lines when they notice unique things. :-)

    Shelley: Thanks. Visceral reactions and immediate associations like that can be so colorful and fun.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Christine: It's probably a good idea to take a break and work on some shorter pieces--poetry, short stories--so your fresh perspective returns. I've had to do that several times myself. It really does help restore your joy and confidence.

    Laura P.: Exactly. It's often little details that can have big impact.

    ReplyDelete
  16. This is a great take on setting, and a good reminder for me as my MC goes to a new place.

    ReplyDelete