Out walking my dog, I watch as dark clouds are rolling in and the wind starts moving the branches of the nearby tree. I left my jacket at home, so I'm hoping the rain holds off until we get there. A roll of thunder in the distance makes me pick up my pace, tugging my dog from where he wanted to stop and sniff a mailbox. My mind pictures the local news channel the night before, the news anchor announcing a woman who was hit by lightning and warning people to try and take shelter if a storm comes through.
Two very different perspectives on the same incident. Every event has an almost limitless way it could be told. People don't just experience life in a bubble, they bring their previous experiences with them, their current circumstances, their religious, political and philosophical beliefs. Everything leading up to the event influences how it affects your characters. Your job as a writer, is to figure out which way best lends itself to your story. Should it be told by the A student who witnessed a fight in the hallway, by the teacher responsible for breaking up the fight, by the teen who started it or the teen who defended himself?
If the saying that all stories have already been told is true, then the beauty of perspective is that it offers a new twist in how to tell an old story. Jodi Lynn Anderson recently did just that in her YA book Tiger Lily, the story of the "girl with the feather" in the Peter Pan tale and told by Tinkerbell. There's a well-known story told in an unexpected way.
Whether you're retelling a popular story or tackling something completely different, you'll make perspective decisions as soon as you start writing simply by choosing a point of view:
- If you use first person, your story will be told by one person and one person alone. So readers will only know that character's perspective. This is one of my favorite ways to write, but some writers find it limiting. You can get around that limitation by alternating chapters from different characters (one of my favorite examples of this is Wendelin Van Draanen's Flipped).
- If you use third person, you have more leeway in point of view, but that means you have to pick and choose each scene's perspective. You have a lot of wiggle room, but be cautious to not have your character reflect on something he or she couldn't possibly know from the current perspective.
I once wrote a feature story for a local newspaper on summertime pet care from the perspective of a dog. (My only defense is that I wrote it late one evening when I was feeling the deadline crunch.) Surprisingly, my editor loved it. Why? Because it changed perspective in an otherwise run-of-the-mill story. And that made it more interesting to the reader.
It is, after all, all in the way you look at it.