I had a distant memory pop up a couple of days ago. I had this fantastic sixth grade teacher. He gave us a project that was both interesting, expanded our knowledge of the Solar System, and made use our math in a fascinating way.
He had what was probably adding machine paper—a big roll a couple of inches wide. He went around the room tearing off random lengths and handing them out. Mine must have been five feet long.
“The Sun is at one end. Pluto is at the other. Mark the positions of the other planets to scale.”
Measuring, calculating, marking . . .
It changed my perspective of the solar system, and, eventually, everything.
Perspective and scale are important in art, giving depth and realism to paint on a flat canvas. Or distorting it, for effect.
In history, the perspective of time gives us the ability to see an event in its entirety, cause, effects . . . but it can also make things look very small, that were huge at the time.
In writing, we use point of view to give the reader the perspective we want. Sometimes it even works. We can help a comfortable old woman feel the emotions of a confused teenage boy. We can take the reader into the mind of a murderer. A lover. An explorer. A pirate. We can take the dry numbers of a history book, and walk the reader through the gates of Auschwitz.
When we write, we need to consider what perspective, what scale is right for telling the story. Do we need more perspectives, more points of view? Does our character need to be an observer, to show the huge scope of the action? Or deep in the action, to show the danger, the blood, and the glory in a small part of the whole? How immediate, how fast or slow should things occur.
And then we pull ourselves out of the story, and start the next chapter, and perhaps put that action into a more distant perspective where we can see the fallout, all the consequences.
It’s something we do in real life, too. We think about things from different perspectives. We writers are trained—self trained, by and large—to see different points of view. To see current events in a historical perspective. To reduce a tragedy by thinking of numbers and percentages, instead of individual lives.
I’ve come to the conclusion that some people can’t do that.
Their historical perspective is the last few years that they personally remember. The time is always now. What is happening now will continue unchanged unless we act NOW! Their world is small, and inhabited with people pretty much like them, but lucky enough to have darker skin pigmentation. Some place a short plane flight away has a quaint tradition of beheading heretics and stoning rape victims, but under that shallow surface layer, they are just like us. Just, you know, if they had jobs they wouldn’t be conquering the Middle East with firepower and sword. It’s just like the Spanish Inquisition, which wasn’t too long ago, and now all these Spanish speakers are becoming Americans, and we can all sing Kumbaya and such, because the Muslims are a peaceful people, and will be joining us in a year or two at the most.
That sort of person frightens me. If it’s genetic, the Human race is doomed, doomed I say . . . err, sorry, let my historical perspective slip a bit there . . .
I can detach myself from the current insanity by taking the long perspective and telling myself that a hundred years from now all this will just be a tale of confusion and massive stupidity that we’ve put behind us. But I’m a writer; I can explore multiple possible futures. And some of them aren’t pretty. In my writing, I can show possible ways out, or explore the route into a deeper hell. Or both. I can see unlimited possibilities, ramifications, side effects. I can look at it from the other side’s perspective, to the limit of my knowledge of how a stranger thinks and feels.
I can change my geographical perspective and look just at national issues. It’s not the first time the economy’s been in the tank. But it may be the first time so many young adults have gone so deeply into debt with no job prospects to show for it. I can write about characters that do work their way out of it, or a benevolent government that forgives their debt, but still cannot employ them.
I can focus down further, on the publishing industry as a propaganda arm of the Marxists.
I can look closer at the petty issues in SFF fandom.
But I can’t look at the future, I can only speculate. Extrapolate. As Sarah said elsewhere, more or less, the cat pissed on my crystal ball, and now it still doesn’t work.
I write fiction, not reality. Reality is where I live. I have to live in the now, and by taking action in the now, perhaps I can influence the future.
It’s all a matter of perspective. I know my visions of the future are fiction. Things I hope or fear. Some people seem to think _their_ hopes and fears, their vision of the future, is inevitable.
I think perhaps instead of trying to argue people around to our side, we need to teach them about perspective. We need to teach that fears and desires are internal. Not reality. We need to break them out of the straightjacket that traps them in a single narrow view. I’ll try through my writing.
Because maybe fiction can change the reality of the future.