Defining Perspective

When writing a story from a character’s perspective–whether in the first- or third-person point-of-view–it’s important to see things as that character sees them, and to understand that this character will see things a little differently (sometimes a lot differently!) than everyone else in the story will–and differently than you would. One of the most popular ways to play with this is through the use of the Rashomon effect, whereby you tell a tale through the eyes of several characters. The accounts differ in certain contradictory ways, and yet because of the vagaries of perception they are all true.

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This isn’t the only way to play with perception, however. One of my little ways of toying with the concept of perception has been with a series of t-shirt designs I created, called “A Housecat’s Dictionary”. The concept was of a housecat’s picture dictionary, in which pictures appeared next to a cat’s concept of what that picture represented. For instance, a goldfish bowl might be labeled “soup of the day,” a cute kitten “juvenile delinquent,” a fierce lion “overrated,” and a flock of small birds “hors d’oeuvres:”

You’ve probably already played around with the Rashomon effect in a creative writing class, although if not, feel free to give it a try. (One of my favorite examples of Rashomon in action is a hilarious CSI episode from last season.) However, I’d suggest you also try something along the lines of the housecat’s dictionary. I.e., instead of simply looking at several individuals’ versions of a series of events, look at several people’s basic definitions of the things and people around them. Or, pick an animal (such as a dog or bird) and do the same.

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