This week has been all about changing perspective. That is mostly inside the novel which is now nearing completion. But also in my routine, my expectations and my approach to filing. It’s been a lot of fun, after the initial shock. But I am still in the process of adjustment. That, incidentally, is why this week’s blog is late.
What happened is this: most of last week I was wandering about the Dorset coast with the Birdwatcher, looking at birds, butterflies and bees.
We’ve done this several times before and I love it. Not that I’m any sort of ornithologist. But I love watching people going about their business. And at this time of year, birds are very busy indeed.
Naturally Changing Perspective
Normally on these holidays I bask in the light, the fresh air, the countryside and being completely completely divorced from my normal life. But this time something else happened.
The weather was volatile. We had mist and then blinding sunlight. We were stalked by a chaffinch whom we only caught sight of in silhouette. The perspective kept changing all on its own.
And then one day we drove along the coast road to Lyme Regis through low cloud and driving rain. It was like the start of a Gothic thriller.
My writing brain, hitherto at rest, perked up and said, “Hello, there’s something going on here. I need to pay attention.”
The Oxford English dictionary defines perspective first of all as “the art of representing three-dimensional objects on a two-dimensional surface so as to give the right impression of their height, width, depth, and position in relation to each other”
Well, of course, translating a distant three dimensional object into a larger but two dimensional image is exactly what binoculars do. You can clearly see the colour of a bird’s legs. But the bush it’s sitting on is flattened like rolled pastry.
The dictionary also defines the term when used figuratively: “true understanding of the relative importance of things; a sense of proportion.”
Changing Perspective versus Habit
The great thing about birdwatching is that every time you raise your binoculars you’re going to have to change the focus in order to home in on the bird or butterfly in question. Effectively you change perspective half a dozen times an hour.
Contrast that with the editing a story you’ve had in mind a long time, as I am at the moment. The characters and the story have developed over a long time. You know where you are with them. Why would you change the way you look at them now?
At best, you’ll find different details but the same fundamental choreography. At worst – well it could be a whole different story. In that case you could always start again. But your friends and family would probably murder you.
Enter the Inspired Reader… if you’re lucky.
I Wouldn’t Start From Here…
Jacqui Bianchi, the inspired editor who became almost a mentor for me, used to say that if you were worried about a book, forget the first three chapters and see how you like it if you start reading at Chapter Four. Her theory was that sometimes it takes a writer a while to write herself into the story. (It works.)
But I’d discarded a couple of (cracking, too!!) false starts with this book. And yes, the first chapter was as late as I dared to go in starting the action
But, most fortunately, I got back from the holiday to a kind message from someone who had read the first three chapters. And what he said set me twiddling the focus. Was there a different way to think about the start?
Go for a gothic atmosphere? (That ride to Lyme Regis is still in my mind.) Introduce a random action whose significance will have to wait?
At the time of writing I’ve found four different possibilities. All of them suggest something of the past to be discovered over the course of the story. I know which I like the most – and I’ve run it past writer friends. They liked it, God bless them. And that’s the one I’m going with for the moment.
But I’m keeping the others on file. You never know.