Perspective

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.

20 Comments

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20 responses to “Perspective

  1. re: the Future.

    Here’s a hint:

    “Welcome to Costco,I love you !!”

    (sad sigh)

  2. Jim McCoy

    Perspective is important. That’s for sure. What people seem to forget is that the other guy’s perspective. This is not shocking in the US, as a large group of people here refuse to learn the other side’s perspective because it is “offensive.” And of course, assuming that someone who grew up on the other side of the world and may not see things the same way that those people see things is “offensive” as well. This is an important lesson. I hope a few people will read and learn. I won’t hold my breath though.

  3. The whole idea that “He can’t mean what he just said because I wouldn’t mean that if I said that” leaves me slack-jawed with a mix of horror and amazement. Like: “The Iranian religious leaders don’t really believe that a messiah will come and bring about the end of the world. Only crazy Christians fall for that.” Perhaps it is because my mental world is very much tilted toward the past, because of what I do for a living, but the presentism of the current Progressive culture and it’s leaders scares me. While history generally does not repeat itself, you can learn a heck of a lot about why cultures do certain things by looking into their past. And then extrapolate, like Tom Kratman did with _Caliphate_ . Or Sarah did with her future history world and the mules.

    Bah, I’ve got a bunch of thoughts that I’ll shepherd into coherence and put up at my own place next week. Because I’m reading _Ride the Red Horse_ and thinking, “Here we go again, but with suicide bombers and the Internet.”

    • History may not exactly repeat itself, but it sure likes variations on a theme.

      • Alan

        Some times in history, perhaps not others.
        I understand the Anglo-Saxon language, and others more or less in that time & part of the world, had what are called “binary verbs” — only two tenses: now, and not-now.
        Imagine what this did for the ability to think analytically about the past and how it might affect the future … are the perceptual limitations implied similar to the sort of thinking Pam’s talking about?

        • Old English had present tense and past tense. To indicate futurity, they used the present tense with an adverb, a trick that is still available in modern English: ‘Tomorrow we die.’ I have not seen any evidence that this handicapped the Anglo-Saxons in any way in their understanding of time.

      • Tully

        As I like to say, history doesn’t so much repeat itself as play encores.

  4. I see the future as “cause and effect.” Although sometimes I do get surprised. Sadly, I am more often right. 😉

  5. “I can look closer at the petty issues in SFF fandom.”
    On the bright side, when I was reading Lucky Star and Tom Swift Jr. books, Science Fiction wasn’t considered real ‘literature’. At least SFF fandom is alive and kicking enough to have petty issues.

    • And Indy is kicking hard. And every device that has a screen is being used for reading. It’s all still just starting to change. My crystal ball says five years before one of the Big Six publishers withdraws from printed fiction altogether. 😀

  6. Slightly off topic

    If the Moon Were Only 1 Pixel – A tediously accurate map of the solar system.

    Be prepared to scroll… alot.

    http://joshworth.com/dev/pixelspace/pixelspace_solarsystem.html

  7. Uncle Lar

    “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 . . .”
    The thing about genetics is that nature is constantly introducing new mutations. Successful ones reproduce, while the failures die off. Since your typical liberal progressive can’t seem to even as much as take care of themselves, looking to mama government to do the heavy lifting, their effective chance for survival in a true SHTF situation is nil. We live in what historically is a remarkably benign era of fabulous wealth for the common folk along with health care undreamed of in past cultures. That could all change in a split second from any of a number of apocalyptic events. What followed would make the world wars pale by comparison.
    There are any number of novels that address this. I’d recommend John Ringo’s The Last Centurion for one perspective on what a few relatively minor changes could bring to the world.

    • Evolution: whatever is best at reproducing itself, wins.
      Right now, things are a bit squirrelly, in as much as the people who can play the welfare system the best seem to be doing well, by evolutionary standards. Long term? I think there will be a big turnaround in winning strategies, and the genes that are associated with it. I hope, toward both independent thinking and hard applied labor.
      Hopefully through a near future return of sanity to government. I really don’t want to wait for the next ice age. Can’t you see the Lib/Progs running the relocation of Canadians and then the population of the northern tier of states to the south? No doubt financed by a climate zone tax and confiscation of land to build highrise apartments for the refugees.

      • The problem is that human technology has let us control our “environment” to such a degree that the historical natural weeding out process for the stupid among us barely exist any more. I’m amazed the government in the US hasn’t mandated that big warning signs need to be placed on stoves so people know burners get hot, another on your bathtub that it can hold enough water to drown in and to keep electric appliances away from them.

        • That’s not genetically stupid. Because there are a lot of people with seriously low levels of intelligence who still understand not to do dangerous things.

          That’s what happens if you don’t teach kids anything, actively prevent them from learning, and try hard to delete all survival instincts.

  8. mrsizer

    > I write fiction

    A bit off topic, but: I’m loving it! Pretty much a Wine of the Gods book a day. I’m buying them because a) they are great and you deserve to get paid and b) when I read that fast I miss things, so there will be a second pass. Tomorrow’s pretty busy, but hopefully book 11 on Sunday!

    > Do we need more perspectives, more points of view?

    I’m very much of two minds on this. For example, I think Robert Jordan went seriously overboard. There were too many parallel plot lines/perspectives to keep track of. By the time I got back to one, I had forgotten where it was left dangling (300 pages back).

    On the other hand, I generally don’t like stories told from only one point of view because they feel “flat”. It was a problem with books chosen by a book club I was not really a member of (awful selections). They were stories of woe told from the main character’s perspective. If I want that, I can just go chat with the nearest person homeless person.

    > We can take the reader into the mind of a murderer. A lover. An explorer. A pirate.

    This is where the SJWs really bother me: Only if you are one! You can’t write about a pirate unless you are a pirate (cultural appropriation or whatever). Apparently these people have no empathy whatsoever so they assume no one else does, either. Grrr.

    • Thanks! Glad you are enjoying them. I sometimes get carried away with too many separate threads in a book, so I’m currently experimenting with separating the threads out into their own stories. One to three POV’s per. Wish my crystal ball did work! Only time will tell if you readers like it, or don’t.

      • mrsizer

        Starting with Easterly in Young Warriors was an interesting choice. If it weren’t book 11, I’m not sure if you would have hooked me. I kept wondering “how does this dude tie into anything?” (all my guesses were wrong, which was fun and why I hate mysteries). I noticed that you didn’t make the same choice in Empire of the One and start with Izzo. Chapter 1 could have been labeled Prologue. It took me a while (pages) to figure out what was going on with the start of Earth Gate. I think it was a good choice, but binge reading made it a bit confusing. Reading as they come out (as I will #18 – there is going to be #18, right?), it works better because the “didn’t this happen, already?” is much fainter.

        Now I need to decide who’s next…

        • Lots of good writers around here. If they are new to you, I recommend Dave Freer’s _Rat’s Bats and Vats_, Kate Paulk’s _Convent_, Sarah Hoyt’s _Draw One in the Dark_ as three of my favorite books. Then there’s the rest of the regulars, the semi regulars, and a lot of the commenters are writers too.

          And I have more story ideas than I have time to write, and they won’t stop coming.