Digging for Perspective
Getting into the skin of your characters isn’t always easy. For the past year I’ve been trying to touch base with a character who keeps ducking away from me at the last moment.
The story which revolves around her came to me last year after I met up with a guy I’d gone to high school with. We hadn’t seen each other in twenty years and I was pretty sure we’d never actually had a conversation, so immobilised I was by my crush on him (and the fact he had a girlfriend). It is quite possible up until that lunch date I’d never uttered more than a ‘hello’ to him.
The crush was an easy to fess up on Facebook at midnight (and twenty years removed from the event). When we did get together in person it was amazing to enjoy a conversation and lots of story telling without the pressure of adolescent desire or peer censor. The thing which struck me the most, and this isn’t the first time this has happened, is having the opportunity to see your life through someone else’s eyes.
It makes me wonder if this is the experience of those characters we write about? It is certainly a humbling way to get perspective.
Since that meeting I’ve been gestating the idea. Other than time, the only thing holding me back from writing is my reticence at being able to write with a genuine teenage perspective. When I get a handle on this I’m certain the character will step up and make herself known to me properly and we can move past this shadow-boxing version of writing.
But how do you go about getting a teenage perspective? And do we as adults really want to go back there?
I guess I’m rather lucky. Much of my teenage years are well documented in diaries, letters and photo albums. I’m planning in the next few months to repatriate the teenage letters of my friends in the hope I will be able to get mine back. A return trip to Victoria (where I spent a good chunk of my teenage years) next month looks promising also as plans fall into place to catch up with my old girlfriends from that time. We’ll laugh, we’ll cringe and possibly even shed a few tears and I’ll be mentally filing it away.
Sometimes things just come to you though.
Last month I read Richard Jay Parker’s debut thriller “Stop Me”, which seems like a rather unlikely place to trip over a teenage recollection. It turns out Parker’s main character Leo and I share some rather odd behaviours, which until reading the book, I’d totally forgotten about.
In the book Leo is bereft and barely functioning after the disappearance and suspected murder of his wife, Laura, and falls into the obsession of superstitious thinking. What’s superstitious thinking – in Leo’s and my case, its not simply about black cats.
“He looked at the telephone for a while and marvelled at how long the person on the other end was waiting for an answer. Whoever it was knew what it took.
If they ring off before I reach it, Laura is alive.
He picked it up.
“Leo. It’s Matty…”
The first time I read one of these lines of thinking it was as though Parker had cast the torch beam about and found pay dirt in a dark and dusty area of my memories.
… if it only takes six steps to get to the bin, he does love me.
… If I get an A on this exam then he’ll smile at me.
… If Mum doesn’t ask me to put my clothes away I’ll get an A on the exam.
That sort of stuff.
It also reminded me of the fact I was a compulsive ‘over thinker’ – where I would consider any and every possible consequence or outcome of any given situation. Small wonder my head didn’t explode. Gratefully I no longer indulge in either of those teenage neuroses (I’ve acquired new and more exciting ones!)
The teenage perspective is coming about slowly but surely, and these chance encounters are grateful milestones on the road to somewhere. And one day soon, I know it will all fall into place – then I won’t be able to drag myself from the page and will be complaining about my characters following me into the toilet or the shower because they won’t shut up nor leave me alone.
Have you ever attempted to write from a teenage perspective? If not, what is the oddest teenage behaviour you’d like to share (it doesn’t have to be your own)? What was your favourite reading material as a teenager? (I was a huge fan of Judy Blume and Paul Zindel)