Sunday, December 1, 2013

Multiple Personality Disorder

For the past two weeks, I took on several different personas to see if I could write from that person's point of view.  I was everything from an evangelical preacher to an atheist, from a rightwing conservative to a leftwing liberal, as well as a serial killer and a pacifist.  I haven't bounced back and forth that much since I watched Wimbledon last year.

This exercise taught me several things.  First, it showed me just how hard it is to write from a point of view where I have nothing in common with the character.  Several of the personalities I assumed are so far removed from who I am that I had to spend considerably more time on them than others if I wanted credibility.  Even so, taking on a few of them was hard without resorting to clichés.

Clichés.  We all have them with regards to some groups of people.  They're the lazy way we make sense of the world when granting someone an individual personality is just too hard.  Yes, stereotypes exist for a reason, and sometimes people conform to them in a general way.  However, when that stereotype is all we rely on, we lose a lot in translation, and it makes it easier for us to write off the person on the other end.  Since as a writer I can't do that if I want to open up the fiction world to a whole new host of stories and characters, I need to try and understand viewpoints that are alien to me.

I'm still not completely comfortable doing that, although I'm much better at it now than I used to be.  As an example, when I first wrote Wrongful Death, I originally wanted to tell the story from the point of view of a high school girl.  However, I have even less understanding today of high school girls than I did when I was a clueless teenager, so any attempt I made to make that kind of character the focal point of a story would have been a disaster.  There's no way I could've made the point of view believable, and the resulting novel would have been atrocious.

Unfortunately, continuing in this vein severely limits my writing world.  It's one thing to accept one's limitations and know that you have no need to get better.  For example, I know nothing about cars.  When I open up the hood, I might as well be staring at the original equation for String Theory from Albert Einstein.  At the same time, I'm not going to be a mechanic or a race car driver, so I don't have any practical need to understand the internal combustion engine.  I do, on the other hand, have need to understand viewpoints foreign to me since doing so will help me write a better book.  That's what made the entire exercise both frustrating and necessary.

I also learned that people will glom onto anything you write as proof positive that that's who you are.  More than one liberal told me that they knew I was a tea-bagging nutjob, while a pair of atheists said they appreciated having a kindred spirit writing blog posts.  Folks, few, if any, of you have any real idea of what I believe - this was just an exercise, and the emotions aroused in some people were among the biggest compliments I could've gotten.  The only one that didn't draw comment was the one I most wanted to know what people thought - that of the serial killer.  Maybe some things are just better left in the realm of imagination.

I guess it's time to get back to writing.  It's also time for me...and for me.

Roses are red,
violets are blue,
I have multiple personality disorder,
and so do I!

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