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An Exercise in Perspective

public domain dragon.pngOne of the best things about being writers is that we get to play with reality. When we craft fiction, poetry, and even creative nonfiction, we can bend and twist the boundaries of our identity, the identities of our speakers and characters, and even the world around us.

Of course, there are varying degrees of reality contorting. One could tell the first-person account of the life of a three-winged dragon in the fictional land of Ingatek, or one could write a poem that relays a factual account of an observation but simply tell it from the perspective of a different person.

“Playing” like this can be fun, exciting, and it works the creative muscle in our writers’ brains that makes us stronger writers. Even hardcore nonfiction writers can benefit from the cross training taking on different perspectives provides. Being able to see the world and events from another’s point of view forces us to notice different details, make different interpretations of events and relationships, and possibly reconsider our own place in the scheme of things.

So today I offer a simple writing exercise in perspective. Use it as a quick warm-up for the day’s writing, or take it and run with it as far as your imagination (and time) will allow.public-domain-child

Exercise: Consider a locale you frequently visit – it could be the library, a bar or restaurant, a park, or even a neighbor’s house. Create a list of at least twenty-five descriptive words associated with that particular place. Write fast and try to complete your list in 3 minutes or less. Using your list, write a short story or poem about being in the place from the perspective of a young child. Keep in mind appropriate vocabulary, how children relate to adults and other children, how a child’s breadth of experience (or lack thereof) might impact what/how he or she experiences in the same place as adult. And have fun with it! You never know where a writing exercise might lead…

Do you often write from different perspectives? Is there a specific process you use when “getting into character” that helps your writing feel more authentic? I’d love to hear about your method in the comments! And if you try the writing exercise, let me know how it goes!

The Writing Life: Real-Life Antagonist

**Don’t forget to enter my Giveaway for your chance to win a copy of What If? Writing Exercises. Ends 11/24!**

villainOver the past few weeks, I’ve been dealing with an unhappy person.  This person is angry at someone else, and I got caught in the crossfire. I’m collateral damage.

I’m not just saying this. Everyone involved agrees it is her, not me.  They have reassured me repeatedly that I’m just an unlucky casualty in this person’s emotional (and truth be told, childish) war.  I’ve told myself this time and again and attempted to shake it off. Somewhat unsuccessfully. It still hurts when someone attacks you, even if you know they aren’t in their right mind (remember Dolores Claiborne?).

I’ve had to spend hours and hours discussing what should be done, how do we handle her in her “fragile state” without making her fly even further off the handle (a friend suggested having her committed – he got voted down). I’ve had to endure – with stoicism – several unpleasant emails and verbal exchanges from her that were downright mean and hurtful. And nothing I say changes anything. She has lumped me in with her bad guys and I’m fair game.

She has become my real-life antagonist.

I forced myself to stay on the high road, turn the other cheek and play the part of the strong and unflinching heroine (I’m not at all dramatic).  But a part of me wanted to fight back, to reach into my bag of nasty and give her a taste of her own medicine, to stand up for myself and ask her what gives her the right to be so cruel?  I didn’t. I remained the sane, calm person at the crazy lady tea party.

Do you know what I did instead?

I wrote her into a story. I cast her as the antagonist. I exaggerated her features and made her grotesque – the kind of ugly that makes babies (and grown men) cry. And I made sure she received her just deserts (a terrible, gut-wrenching poison that made her bleed from every orifice while simultaneously experiencing diarrhea and severe vomiting – it was awful). I made her hair fall out and her skin boil. I made her pancreas explode.

In short, I made sure my paper antagonist suffered far more than I would ever wish on my real-life antagonist.

I know, I know – I’m terribly petty.  But at least I did this in the safety and privacy of my own home. I didn’t say anything I’d regret to the actual person, and those around me are still wowed by how noble I can be (they don’t know me like you do, dear reader). I did feel a small (very small) twinge of guilt at my nasty streak, but I got over it quickly enough when I realized how ridiculous my short story is and how it will never make it off the hard drive.

I got over it because after writing the story, I felt better. I was able to truly forgive and move on. And I now have lots of raw material (albeit a little over the top) that I might use in the future. So really, I should thank my real-life antagonist.

But I won’t. 😉

Tell me, have you ever written about a real-life antagonist? How did it go? I’d love to hear stories from the trenches!