You may have heard about the two students in Georgia who posted a racist video on TikTok (NOT. COOL.) and got expelled from school because of it. As a friend and I were discussing this on Facebook, she mentioned that at her old high school, some seniors once started a food fight shortly before the school year ended. Footage of the incident ended up on the news, and some of the students lost their college scholarships over it. (My friend thought they might have caused thousands of dollars in damage to the cafeteria, but she wasn't sure.)
That reminded me of my high school's infamous food fight. On spaghetti day, no less. Luckily, I wasn't in the cafeteria at the time! Multiple students got suspended, and rumor had it that one might be facing criminal charges. The rumors also said that the response was so extreme because the principal slipped on a noodle and fell. 🙄
At the time, I thought my school's reaction was way over the top. But almost fifteen years later, I've realized that the staff and I were coming at the situation from completely different perspectives. I wasn't present during the food fight. I saw the spaghetti-sauce stains on the ceiling later (I don't think they ever came off), but I only heard about people whose clothes got ruined or who hid under tables to stay out of the crossfire. Our principal was probably in her fifties or sixties, so if she really did fall, she could have broken something.
Perspective is something that I frequently see writers struggle with. It often shows up when a character thinks, acts, or talks in ways that don't fit with their culture, worldviews, or life experiences:
How does Harry Potter grow up in a physically and emotionally abusive household with no positive role models and still turn out kind and eager to learn? My understanding is that traumatized children rarely display these traits, because their brains have developed to focus on survival rather than on relationships and learning.
Men tend to compartmentalize their thoughts and stay focused on the task at hand. Women tend to connect everything (even if there's no logical connection!) and may end up distracted from the current task as a result. If a male character is trying to fix his Xbox, he's probably not simultaneously worrying about why his boss asked to meet with him tomorrow. If a female character is in the same situation, she may well be wondering about why her boss wants to meet and how her behavior might have influenced the request ("Am I getting promoted? Or am I in trouble? I knew I shouldn't have worn boots today")--only to suddenly realize that she's trying to plug in a cord upside down. * Granted, these are just general patterns in each gender. Women can focus on the task at hand and compartmentalize concepts that don't fit together. Men can connect thoughts and get distracted by unrelated ideas.
And for crying out loud, a native French speaker does not pronounce w's as v's when speaking English! A native German or Russian speaker, probably. But not a French speaker! (Can you tell I once suffered through an entire book in which a French character did this almost every time he used a word with a w in it?)
I get it. We create our characters, so some of us naturally bleeds over into them. But we don't want to just make them into projectors of our own opinions. For our characters to feel real and three-dimensional, we have to make sure that their thoughts, words, and actions are true to who they are.
Fixing perspective is a big part of substantive editing. Especially if you have a lot of characters, I can help you make sure they're all making sense. Click here to learn more about it.
(Thanks to redcharlie for sharing their work on Unsplash.)