Hello and welcome to the 100 Day Writing Challenge, Day 29.
How are you today? I hope you’re well, and if you’re not well, I hope we can help build you a little refuge from your troubles for the next few minutes, a little cove you can steer your sailboat into to shelter from the storm, perhaps go belowdecks, pop a coffee on the stove in the corner, and just sit and listen to the rush and crash of the waves out there on the ocean.
So for the last two sessions you’ve been Groundhog Daying this particular encounter between two characters, and today, we’re returning to it again. We’re passing it through filters, we’re transforming it, we’re seeing what effect different choices have on your writing.
This is actually something I’ve realised I want to do more, because a) and this is the grown-up literary pants on excuse, it’s really useful for figuring out the ‘sound’ for a project, for finding voices, for making bold, interesting choices that just punch up a story to the next level. It’s often quite tricky to say precisely why you love your favourite novels more than ones that just feel… fine. Well I contend that strong choices around voice and perspective are probably a big part of that.
Unless of course you’ve got terrible taste, in which case it’s probably because the books had a blue cover or something. I’m joking. This is a safe space here. I respect all book tastes. The stuff I love is all over the place – I love some pretentious twaddle and some pulp trash and all points in-between with absolutely zero consistency. I’m horrible to buy books for. I’m like a rescue dog with food allergies.
Anyway, reason number b) why I want to do this more is because it’s fun. I mean perhaps you’re having a horrible time but I think translating a text through different styles, placing odd restrictions on it, coming at it from as many angles as you can think of and seeing what changes, what stays the same, is so, so useful.
The more you do it, the more acute your awareness becomes of the choices you’re making – the more aware you are of just how many choices you’ve got. And a lot of this I take for granted because I’ve been writing and reading with my fiction writer’s hat on for such a long time, but for people starting out or maybe for writers more excited by content than style, this can be like moving the cooker and finding a door to a whole new wing of your house you never knew was there.
And even if you never use any of the more outré voice modes we explore, which is a totally legitimate choice, by knowing where your style is located within this larger constellation of styles, you get to lean into your core skills and write it better, more confidently, more powerfully. Understanding that you’re – for example – going for a straightforward story, honestly told, and that’s where the juice is for you – that gives you so much power to make decisions that pull towards that end goal.
Anyway, let’s hop into today’s exercise. I’ll chat about this a bit more tomorrow but I’m conscious of wanting to honour your time. I think it’s good for us to hammer through producing some work, then we can reflect on what you’ve done, how it felt, and how you can apply what you’re learning to bigger projects.
So today we’re returning to this scene and we’re shifting the kaleidoscope again. Now I’m going to ask you to take the perspective of the other character in the scene. This is the person that your protagonist is there to meet. I’m happy for you to choose whether you write this in first or third person, but I’d like you to make it a limited narrator, so the story is limited to what this character knows in this moment, and you’re probably going to be tracking their feelings quite closely too. Like, the mood of the scene will probably, to an extent, mirror how this character is feeling.
Now depending on who this person is – whether they’re human at all – and how weird and wonderful your setting is, I realise this might be a challenging exercise, but hopefully it gives you an opportunity to consider the same scene from a different angle. One thing to watch is, are there environmental details, things you mentioned about this setting in the previous drafts, that this character might view differently? Might they notice different things altogether? How are they feeling? The same as the other character? Were all the assumptions your previous viewpoint character made about them correct? Or might there be things going on under the surface we had no idea about?
And similarly, how does this character view your old protagonist? Do they absolutely get them? Do they make assumptions about the person’s behaviour, or read their body language or intentions in ways that might not be entirely accurate?
How does this new perspective enhance, or even undermine or understanding of the previous scene?
A lot to think about – don’t worry too much. You’ve got the previous drafts as a kind of map through this scene, but please feel free to explore. To take risks. To break stuff. None of this is canon. You’re not asking ‘what is’, you’re asking ‘what if?’
Okay, so the scene again, this time from the perspective of the second character. Let’s get another point of view.
Are you ready? Off you go.
And that’s your lot. How was that for you? How did you feel during the writing, and afterwards? Do you enjoy this kind of tinkering with previous scenes, or does it make you feel a bit anxious, like you might muck up the world by making the scarequotes ‘wrong’ closescarequotes choice? Do you feel like you’re unearthing more within this world and characters, or do you feel slightly itchy and bored, like you’re retreading old ground?
In true ‘The Arts’ fashion, there are no wrong answers, these are all just areas in which I encourage you to make gentle enquiries. Of course I hope you enjoy more of these exercises than you hate, that you feel satisfied with more than you feel are an absolute car wreck, but whatever the case, you’re turning up. You’re persisting.
Every time you come back here, and make a decision to do your ten minutes today, that’s a personal victory, it’s an investment in you, it’s an assertion of your self-efficacy. You’re choosing a behaviour in line with your personal values. If you get nothing else out of this course, the change in self-perception from living your life in this way, the realisation of how much power you actually have, could very well be huge.
I hope so, anyway. Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. Look, just take care, thank you for indulging me. I really enjoy doing this. I’ll see you tomorrow.