Barbara Plum's Writing Tips

A Matter Of Perspective
by Barbara Plum

PRINCE OF FROGS (Zebra, October 2004)
QUEEN OF THE UNVIERSE (Zebra, October 2005)

You see the glass half full, I see it empty. You hate the hero, I love him. You think the love story takes a back seat to action, I think the story drags. You think HEA is essential. I'm okay with a more ambiguous ending.

It's all a matter of perspective.

Since I started writing full-time (now almost 10 years ago), I've remembered a lesson I tried to instill in my Sophomore English students: perspective matters.

With that idea in mind, I often advised my students writing on in-class assignments to try a different perspective. Lie down. Go to a different place in the classroom. Stand up. Look at the world through dark sunglasses.

As a writer and avid reader, I find that perspective makes a huge difference. Scarlett O'Hara is not a likeable heroine--from my point of view. She's vain, selfish, and immature. She thinks of herself first. She's a survivor--first, last and always. She's also a match for Rhett Butler, who's older, wiser and more mature. Both are impetuous and outwardly contemptuous of society. Ridiculously, she doesn't recognize he's the love of her life. He walks away from the one woman he adores.

Perspective matters, and I try to remember this when I write. Many of my readers won't have the same world-view I have. One of my readers (a man in his 70's) thinks Molly and Jason are spoiled. I think they are wise, vulnerable and honest. In some ways, they teach the adults more than the adults teach them.

A matter of perspective--tomayto versus tomahto?

Part of how we writers try to deal with the perspective issue is point of view. We write from the hero's perspective and from the heroine's (which has to be different if for no other reason than they are male and female); but primarily because there is no conflict if they both think and see the world from the same perspective.

Getting into someone else's head means we, the writer, have to understand goals the characters want; their motivation to get the goal, and the conflict that arises from not being able to have what the heroine and hero want. Then, we have to wrap it all up so that the reader believes that these two people get together in the end because they want to be together.

In the final analysis (from my perspective), writing is about emotion and communication. It's my job to persuade the reader to forget/suspend her disbelief in these characters who seem to make stupid mistakes guaranteed to drive them apart instead of bringing them together.

As a reader, sometimes my perspective won't be persuaded. For whatever reason--a fight with my husband, a tug of war with my kids, a bad day at the office, worries over money, a pessimistic downturn--whatever, I can't make the connection between me and those characters on the page. They don't become real to me. (Could be the writing sucks, could be the writer insults my intelligence, could be I'm just not in the mood. Whatever . . . from my perspective I've spent good money on a baaad book). Before I got published, I probably would have tossed the book. Now, I'm more likely to put it aside until I'm in a different mood--or until my perspective is somewhat different. (There are still plenty of authors I'm never going to read because my perspective is never going to forgive them for sloppy writing).

Sometimes, to my surprise and dismay, I read an author I'd discounted and find myself excited, transported and in love with the story and the character. I think this is, secretly, what all of us romance writers want: the reader to make the journey with us as trusted guide.

I'd be happy to hear from readers on your favorite books or on differences in your perspective and mine. In the meantime, can you imagine a world without books? I can't. I'd rather have bad books than no books at all! (But this is my perspective).

Barbara Plum

We appreciate Barbara's contribution to the writing tips at Once Upon A Romance.
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