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Developing Point of View and Perspective

The challenge as you write about two characters with opposing opinions is to put aside your own feelings and figure out how people who might be very different from you would look at this situation.

That's challenging enough. But our natural inclination is to make one side of the equation--the side most like our natural opinions--stronger. If we do so, however, we risk making the character with the opposing stance appear to be stupid or just plain stubborn.

Think of yourself as a debater who is researching a subject so you will be effectively argue either side of a proposition and make the strongest possible case for that person's feelings. Only when you can make a strong case for each side can you effectively write a confrontation, argument, or dialogue between your two characters.

Event: A policeman has been charged with assault -- using unnecessary force to subdue a prisoner. A jury hears the evidence and finds the policeman not guilty.

The setting is the steps of the courthouse right after the verdict is given. The viewpoint characters are the cop and the mother of the prisoner.

What is each person thinking? Feeling? Seeing? Hearing? How does each person react differently to the things they see and hear?

The cop leaves the courthouse and stands on the front steps, looking out across the square. He feels vindicated; he was doing his job under difficult circumstances and the jury understood that. He is relieved; he will not have to go to prison, where cops can expect brutal treatment. He is hopeful; there has been public recognition of the difficulty and value of police work. He is sad at the loss of his reputation; he's been a good cop who has been vilified without cause, and despite the verdict he will have to watch every step for a long while to come. He is angry at the time taken from him--a year of suspension, limited work, desk job, anxiety while he awaited trial. He is fearful of going back to work--will he be a target for mistreatment by other offenders? He is depressed about the legal bills he still faces.

He feels the breeze light and fresh and renewing against his face, carrying the sweet scent of spring flowers and freedom. He hears the chorus of reporters' shouted questions and it sounds almost like a cheer of approval. He sees the mother of the man he was accused of beating, and he wants to walk over to her and explain that he was only doing his job. In fact, he starts toward her, and she turns her head and hurries away, shoulders slumped, head down, feet shuffling.

The mother leaves the courthouse and stands on the front steps, looking out across the square. She feels betrayed: How could a system which is supposed to have justice as its goal have released a man who was so unnecessarily cruel? She feels shocked and stunned; she had not prepared herself for this result. She feels sickened; she will have to break the news of the verdict to her son. She feels diminished; her son's pain and suffering has been discounted, as if he's worth nothing, and by extension she feels worthless too. She feels frightened; will this cop, now that the jury has assured him that what he did was just fine, come after her son again, perhaps to gain his revenge? She feels hopeless; what good does it do to try to fight, even to think of trying to buck the system?

She feels the breeze harsh and cold against her face, carrying with it the cloying scent of spring flowers, and thinks that the government pays more heed to planting flowers around the courthouse than to helping the people it should be serving. She hears the chorus of reporters' shouted questions and it sounds like they're jeering at her. She sees the cop staring at her--he looks like he's grinning. When he starts to swagger toward her she turns away, even though she'd really like to stand there till he walks past and spit at him.

The cop feels justice, though late, has finally been done. The mother feels the cop has been let off the hook.

One situation, two people. Two points of view. Each person sees the same events, feels the same breeze, smells the same flowers, hears the same reporters ask the same questions--but each interprets them through his or her own experience and perspective.

This exercise is copyrighted material and is offered for the individual's own use. Further distribution or sale is not permitted without permission of the copyright holder. Copyright 2013 Leigh Michaels.

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