Disclaimer: There’s never really a reason to flip the bird…well, there are reasons, just don’t do it! It’s very bad. Even if you aren’t saying anything you know what you meant (and God does too!) Now, ahem…
I’d been thinking about the impact of perspective on a story for a while now, really since I began compiling notes for my story I’m working on for NaNoWriMo. I was debating which point of view I wanted to use, and how it would affect the story. The broader implications of perspective were brought home to me today at about 6:55 a.m. by an unknown driver in a silver pickup truck. I thought I’d share.
This morning, I pulled into the same U-turn in the center aisle that I turn into every day to get on my way to work. I waited, as I always do, for a gap in the flow of oncoming traffic big enough to make my U-turn and be on my way. I looked and waited until there was a big enough gap, impatient for a little car to pass so I could make the turn. I looked again as he passed me before turning. The car behind me was turning, as well, once I actually got out. Before I could even finish getting into the lane, a silver truck speeds up behind me, laying on the horn. He shoots out into the next lane, nearly taking out the triple black BMW that was turning after me, still laying on his horn. He rolls down his window (mine was already down so I could see to turn) and yells at me. Then, he pulls up beside me as I get into a turn lane by his straight lane at the light, blows his horn to get my attention, and yells some more. His face is so red it’s almost purple, and he’s threatening me to “turn out like that again.” I have no idea what will happen if I do; I completely missed that part, as steam was pouring from my ears.
Now, for him to make it from the stoplight to where I U-turned before I completed my U-turn, he had to have been going 60 mph in a 45 mph zone. He almost hit a BMW who also judged the distance as safe to turn. He then proceeded to go all road rage 2011 on me. Yet he was in the wrong.
At least from my perspective. But there’s also how it looks from his perspective. I have no idea where he was coming from or going to, whether or not he was late, preoccupied with his cell phone, mad his candidate lost last night, plotting to kill his wife, running from the cops, or just going out for a soy latte. Maybe he thought it was fine for him to go a little faster. Maybe he had switched lanes after getting stuck behind a slow mover, then got the snot scared out of him when, after checking his rearview and getting over, he found himself way too close to me going way to fast. Maybe from his point of view, I misjudged his distance and turned right in front of him.
Then there’s that triple black BMW, who saw it all from a neutral third party position. He has no distinct advantages or perks for agreeing with either of our stories, and maybe he saw both of us in the wrong: I pulled out too soon, and the silver pickup was going too fast.
First person is automatically unreliable. The first person narrator doesn’t have all the facts, have their own feelings connected to the outcome, and has reasons for only telling you part of the truth. Second person pretends to be a third person omniscient, telling both their side and their assumptions of your side. Only third person can do it all, but that narration can be so unemotional involved and so distant from it that you can lose some of the emotion.
The only problem is, in real life, your story always begins in first person. You know what you see and how you feel, and you use previous experience to judge what that tells you about other people and situations like the one above. This man yelled at me because of what the situation looked like from his perspective, and I think he was in the wrong. If I compound the situation by, say, flipping him the bird, not looking at it from his perspective and not knowing his perspective, I could end up maliciously rear ended or killed in a road rage incident. I could think he’s all talk and blaring horns, but what do I know?
So the lesson of the day, friends and neighbors, is to try to see the world in third person a little bit more. There’s more than just your point of view, and your point of view is naturally limited. This is what it means to be empathetic and sympathetic. So many things are about perspective in our lives, and we need a clearer one than our own.
I am writing my novel in third person. 😀