Sunday, July 5, 2015

Angle, Emphasis, and Insight

What do you want readers to see? Perhaps you seek a kind of photographic realism, with the proportions between background and character, acuity and obscurity resembling what we see every day. Maybe, however, you want more—want readers to view the world from a different vantage point in order to reach new perception, new conclusions.

Tip: To change your reader’s perspective, you must first change your own.

Albert Einstein said that to solve a problem, you must alter your approach to it—that something must shift to allow new insight. That’s what a device called the camera obscura once provided. This precursor of Kodak is a dark chamber that reversed the image visible on the other side.  Some theorize that 17th century Dutch Masters like Vermeer used it to study the world upside down, in order to gain greater control of detail via altered perception. Tracy Chevalier describes this exquisitely in Girl with a Pearl Earring.

If you’d like to change your perspective without a camera obscura, what might you do?

~ Listen.

Many of the best novelists are more interested in what others have to say than in their own thoughts, which they already know. And opinions that make you queasy are likely among the most useful. What better way to explore other belief systems?

~ Ask questions.

Why does this person believe what she believes? How does he compartmentalize that way? Not all your characters are like you (!),  so you need a way to understand those who aren’t.

~ Broaden your horizons.

Seen any good paintings lately? Even if art isn’t your thing, a quick web foray can do lots to present the world through lenses rose-colored and otherwise. Some suggestions:

  • In Felix Vallotton’s “The Ball,” greenery gets far more precedence than figures or objects. Doesn’t that raise a lot of questions? Which ones?

  • “Christina’s  World,” by Andrew Wyeth, again emphasizes landscape. The disabled woman is unable to walk to the farmhouse, which is some distance away. What does the painting reveal about her? About her world? About your own?

  • “Everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see,” said Rene Magritte, who painted a man painting a woman on the woman, a mirror functioning in reverse of a camera obscura,  a room-sized apple,  a locomotive suspended beneath a mantelpiece. All are true in the details—just not the relationships. What does that say? How are fiction and surrealism related?

Change how you see—what you see—and you can change the view for your readers. Toy with proportion, reversal, emphasis, and irony. Nothing will look quite the same. Isn’t that inherent in the word “fiction”?

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