The Importance of Fresh Perspective

diver-in-kelp-tank-c2016-jillcbaker-400-px

I sometimes recall a long-ago Sociology class where our professor had us all sit on the floor. The objective was to help us gain a fresh perspective about the world – to look at things differently, to shed our assumptions about good and bad entities and to replace that categorization with an understanding of the important dynamic created by both forces.

The same is true for writing. All too often, especially when working in a corporate capacity, we get “too close” to the product or service. We assume that others know what we’re discussing. We revert to industry lingo or technical terms that may not resonate with the end user. We rely on acronyms that hold no meaning for the outsider. We overlook unanswered questions that newcomers may have because, based on our own experiences, we have already found those answers.

The need for fresh perspective is an excellent argument for utilizing an external resource – a freelance writer, an editor, or a consultant. “Fresh eyes,” is what I sometimes call it. “The Emperor’s New Clothes” is another phrase I use. To me, that’s the ability to say with brutal honesty, “It’s still not clear how to work with your company” or “I know what your product does but I still don’t understand how to use it.”

* TAKE A BREAK.

As an exercise, it’s wise for authors to step back or step away for a few days. Upon returning, we find ourselves more observant and critical. “I see what the character is doing, but what’s his motivation? Why did he choose to take that action at this particular time?” With direct response copy, a clear head can also catch important oversights: “I see what the monthly payments are, but nowhere does it say what the total cost will be. That seems deceptive.”

* LOOK FOR THE SECOND RIGHT ANSWER.

Gaining a fresh perspective can also help us avoid clichés. It’s easy to revert to catch phrases and familiar metaphors while telling a story. “She had a song in her heart.” Really? Let’s be cynical: “How did the song get there? What is it singing?” Perhaps we should explain more authentically: “After a week in the sunshine, her mood shifted from a sense of futility to a gradual joyfulness that caused her to hum as she puttered around the garden, pulling weeds and turning topsoil. The combination of warm earth and trilling birdsong lifted her spirits and opened her mind to new possibilities.”

* TURN THINGS INSIDE OUT AND UPSIDE DOWN.

As writers, we must force ourselves to see things others don’t. For example, we all see cars, trucks, and taxis as vehicles that pass us by on a busy city street, but what if we were in an airplane or skyscraper looking down? That’s an entirely different canvas made possible by a change of perspective. We become observers, empowered by our position. We see an interchange of moveable parts, we notice advertising on the tops of buses, we become aware of colors and patterns, might even be able to anticipate an impending accident or traffic jam. Fresh perspectives provides wisdom and scope.

I recently had the opportunity to watch a wonderful aquarium presentation staged around a kelp tank at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California.  As we stood safe and dry on the outside of the enormous 70,000 gallon tank, we could look in and up to see the fish swim by. We watched moray eels emerge from the tangle of plants… observed an immense sea bass rise to the surface and descend for food. Two divers entertained us – one cleaning the tank, one feeding the fish. Just seeing the continual interaction of these graceful sea creatures and the light filtering through the water transported us to a place we didn’t know … a place where peacefulness and fluidity could translate into a descriptive paragraph or plot.

So let’s ask when writing: “What would this incident look like if I were one of the characters? What would I see, feel, taste, hear, or smell?” Alternately, let us imagine ourselves encountering the incident as an observer. “What would make me stop and pay attention?” Sure, there is the obvious — “there’s a sinkhole forming in the road” — but perhaps it’s the small detail that takes us there:  “A mouse scurried across the road only to stop at the edge of the cavern created by cracking concrete.”

In thinking about the kelp tank, I’m reminded that “blue” might be nice in describing something but perhaps teal, the color of peacock feathers, or turquoise, the color of an underwater garden, might be more compelling.

Six Ways to Leave Your Lover

Paul Simon’s song, “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover” came to mind as I was thinking about this blog– because there are so many ways to say the same thing. That makes perspective and point of view very powerful tools for the writer.

So let’s try an exercise to see how bias can change a story and alter what we reveal.

WRITTEN AS A NOVEL

(Anytown, USA)
Sunday morning, Jane Doe, left her home on Loveya Lane, revved up the engine of their prized Miata, and never looked back. She and John had been together for eight years, not formally joined but living the life of a married couple. Yet, over the years, Jane and John had drifted apart. He had started a successful entrepreneurial company and was raking in the dough while she was giving away her worldly belongings in search of Enlightenment.

Just as Jane crossed the state line with radio blaring and hair flying in the wind, John woke up and saw the note she had left on the nightstand. “Dear John,” it read in Jane’s quick hand. “I love you, but I’ve got to leave. Thanks for 8 great years. Don’t try to find me. Treat Fido well.” John sat on the edge of the bed, too stunned to move. Fido looked up imploringly, as John absent-mindedly scratched him behind the ear.

WRITTEN AS A NEWS BROADCAST

(Anytown, USA)
(Medium shot, anchor) I’m standing on the lawn with John Doe in front of his empty garage. (camera pulls back to reveal garage) After an eight year relationship, it appears that his partner, Jane, has taken the car and headed toward the highway, leaving their dog, Fido, behind. John is the owner of the highly successful Capital Ventures Company and says he didn’t see this coming. (cut to John holding a folded note) “Jane and I have had a great life together. She’s been my friend, lover, and soul mate. We’ve had some differences of opinion about money, but I never expected her to leave for a commune. Guess it’s just me and Fido now.” (camera pans down to dog who barks on cue)

WRITTEN AS A SOCIAL MEDIA POST

Hey, guys. Jane’s gone. Went to a commune near Taos. John’s bummed. He’s got the dog but she took the car. You can text her but don’t call.

WRITTEN AS A BUSINESS STORY

John Doe, the successful owner of Capital Ventures, is looking for a red (year and model) Miata to replace one that was recently stolen. The car will be garaged at his home in Anytown USA, close to their corporate headquarters in Anycity, USA. “We’ve had a record year,” said Doe, when interviewed after the fourth quarter Board Meeting. “We’ve gotten product out ahead of schedule and have great new things in the pipeline. I’m considering the car a personal reward,” he said with a smile. Doe wouldn’t talk about the pipeline projects but promised a press conference once he and his longtime partner, Jane, return from a trip abroad. “Sorry, guys, gotta fly,” Doe told the throng of reporters pressing him at the airport. “Where’s Jane?” someone from the Financial Sun called out. “She’s already there,” Doe assured. “For safety sake, we don’t travel together anymore.”

WRITTEN AS A MEMOIR

I’m Jane Doe, and I’ve been with John for eight wonderful years. Each day as I watch him get ready for work, I am envious of his enthusiasm. He is certainly a man consumed by his passion to succeed, while I on the other hand, am trying to find success in simpler things. The days for me are long as I read quietly in the study, with Fido at my side. I see such greed and discontentment in the world around me. People compete for things they will never use and don’t really need. I’ve decided to give most of my material belongings to charity and am seriously considering joining a commune. I don’t want to hurt John, but I see no other way.

WRITTEN AS AN AD

Sunny room for rent in expansive house at the outskirts of Anytown, USA. Formerly a study for an aspiring writer and philosopher, this charming hideaway features beautiful Victorian moldings, floor-to-ceiling windows, and an atrium filled with ferns. Quiet neighborhood. Access to all common areas, including garage. Monthly rent $$$. Property owner is a single corporate executive who travels frequently.
What’s the take-away here? There’s more than one way to leave a lover – or tell a story. None of these versions is wrong, but each offers a distinctly different “take” on what happened. We might conclude that what a writer chooses not to say is just as important as what he says.