A New Perspective

When I run errands, I park in the lot’s equivalent of the North Pole, so my car doesn’t get dinged. I walk quickly, with swagger and purpose. I learned to do this in my twenties under the advice of security types who said women can deter attacks against themselves by adopting this attitude. I stride everywhere, thinking nothing of how far I need to walk. I whip around impediments.

When I took care of my mother after her knee surgery, my experience was quite different. I drove her in Daddy’s Lincoln Town Car, looking for accessible parking. Believe me, when you’re driving a land yacht, you’re grateful you get to park in an ample space. I had no idea how scarce these spaces are though. I’m thinking, This is a doctor’s office. Why is there ONE accessible space? And why is the parking lot a steep hill? Or if there are a lot of spaces, they are so far away you have to walk a distance to get to the door. Inside one building, we had to traipse the length of a football field to get to the office we needed. Granted, a volunteer offered her a wheelchair; but that’s a long way.

We went to a big box store, which had lots of accessible spaces; but those were all far, far away from the door. I let Momma off at the entrance, and then I looked for a scooter for her. A clerk said they were scarce that day because “It’s the first of the month.” Oh. That’s right. The first is payday for a lot of disabled people and older adults. We managed to get a scooter, but competition was fierce and vigorous. So vigorous that a caretaker who wanted a scooter for her charge rapidly loaded our goods in the car I had pulled up to the curb for Momma, so she could more quickly claim the scooter Momma was in the process of abandoning. I thought of home, where I can work in peace. At that moment I felt like Greta Garbo. “I want to be let alone.”

During my time with Momma, I realized that to some, a slight incline looks like Mount Everest. The close-in accessible spaces aren’t close at all. Navigating a large store without a motorized vehicle is impossible. Protecting your car’s appearance is not a dictatorial priority. And things may not get done. When they do, they get done very, very slowly.

I’m home now, swaggering and striding with a spring in my step and getting things – lots of things – done in a hurry. But caring for Momma showed me what some must live with every time they go out. Now I would be able to write about a character recovering from a knee operation or otherwise unable to walk well in a much more convincing manner than I could have in the past. I’m just glad I can still swagger and that my mother is expected to experience recovery in the future.

Your turn:

What characters have you written about who aren’t like yourself? How did you learn about them?

What character do you find the most intriguing who is nothing like you? How did the author make the character convincing?

What type of character would you like to write about who has little in common with yourself?

21 Responses to A New Perspective

  1. Avatar
    Audra Sanlyn September 5, 2019 at 3:44 am #

    Ah, perspective. It ‘s both daunting and exciting to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, (at least when it’s a fictional character.) My main character in my current WIP is very different from me. She’s an extroverted fashionista with a mother who makes Cruella Deville look like a saint.
    I basically had to tap into every angry bone in my body to write the scenes with her and her mom.
    I would like to write about a character who travels for his job, (because who doesn’t love research trips?) It would be fun to create a character who is a physician travelling for Doctors Without Borders. For a work-from-home mom, it would be quite the experience writing about an outgoing male doctor who travels around the world. That would be quite the change in perspective.

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    Melissa Henderson September 5, 2019 at 5:49 am #

    Developing characters is truly a unique experience. When thinking of the people in my stories, I can see a bit of myself in some of my characters. I am not exactly like each person but I put a little bit of my life in each one. It might be a slight detail or a characteristic or appearance.

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    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser September 5, 2019 at 7:12 am #

    I wish that I could write the man
    whom I now cannot recall,
    who planned his life and lived his plan,
    and in confidence stood tall.
    His end was painful, sad and slow,
    leaving but a quiet shade
    whose eyes from yonder mirror show
    the dreadful price he’s paid.
    Perhaps if I could bring him back
    to life in word-caught chapters,
    I might regain what I now lack,
    the assured and easy laughter.
    In a newly breathing man of fiction,
    could I find my old direction?

    • Avatar
      claire o;sullivan September 5, 2019 at 12:15 pm #

      find your old pics, your stuff ah, that you lugged around; keep yourself as now, and give the early version the compassion to overcome his own fears he faces (as you did and do) blessings and prayers.

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    Sharon K Connell September 5, 2019 at 7:29 am #

    Tamela, you are absolutely correct in walking the way you do with confidence. Around forty years ago I worked with former police officers, security, and detectives in my past clerical career. They advised me to adopt a Don’t-try-anything-with-me attitude when out alone. It has worked for more than forty years now. (Plus, I have a T-shirt I wear often when I’m shopping that has a purple dragon on it and says, “Your first mistake was thinking I’m just another old lady.” LOL)

    Back to the questions: The characters I write about are all different than me, but I’m sure any character (with the exception of the bad guys, of course) has a touch of my own personality in them.

    When I design a character for my story, I put myself into their shoes like an actor would. I imagine how that character would act in any given circumstance. What would their perspective be on the situation? That decides their action, their dialogue. It helps to write down important details about each character either before you write them into the story, or while you’re describing the characteristic or action. If it will come up again (and in fleshing out your characters, certain actions and words or reactions should come out again for the same character) you have a reference.

    If I’ve never experienced the action or situation I’m putting one of my characters in, I draw from what I’ve observed in real people. Being a student of human nature wherever you go helps to build a reference base for not only descriptions but actions in various situations.

    There are many characters in books who I find fascinating and are not like me at all. Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice is one. That age had so many rules of decorum. And I believe Jane Austen studied people just like I do to achieve a realism in that character.

    As far as writing about a character who has little in common with me, all my stories have those. I have little in common with the bad guys I depict. However, I do read everything I can get my hands on to create them. Not to mention drawing from news reports in real life.

    • Avatar
      claire o'sullivan September 5, 2019 at 12:19 pm #

      Hi Sharon,

      THIS cracked me up (dragon tee). I think I should get one… however, I used to tell my husband I was going to get a tee that said “I Am My Husband’s Bodyguard,” used to box, not professionally but I carried a punch (for the bag I practiced on… )

      I do the same with my characters 🙂

    • Avatar
      Ginny Graham September 7, 2019 at 7:16 am #

      GREAT T-shirt idea!

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    Seralynn Lewis September 5, 2019 at 7:37 am #

    My husband is handicapped. Oh, not from an injury per se. People ask him if he’s had a stroke. That’s not it. He was a blue baby. I didn’t know him when he was little but he’s told me he worked hard for people not to know his disability. He served in the military which is amazing given his disability but his superiors didn’t find out until his four years was almost over and they let him be.

    He’s only been in my life for a little over 19 years so I don’t know the man that he was. I only know the man that he’s become. Strong. Nothing stops him. And stubborn. Sometimes too stubborn. But his handicap is more prevalent today than it was when I married him long ago. So I’ve seen the progression from what he was back then to what he is today. And it’s likely to get worse as time goes by. He’s my hero, though and my greatest cheerleader. If he can…and has accomplished so much in his life despite his disability…who am I to lament the small aches and pains that come from getting older?

    I said that to say I want to write a character like him. Someone who takes life by the throat and accomplishes what he will despite his disability. I have the perfect example sitting across from me at the dinner table, in the car and doing life. Now just to write that character. 🙂

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    Maco Stewart September 5, 2019 at 8:55 am #

    Fascinating post, Tamela. I spent two weeks immediately after the BRMCWC in New York City (in which I grew to adulthood but from which I then promptly escaped) caring for my mother. She had collapsed and had no idea where she was. She’s back to her usual feisty self now, but being her 24 hour a day caretaker was eye-opening. In the beginning, she could not get out of her hospital bed, much less walk unsupported. Now she’s driving herself out of and into the city, no doubt terrifying those with whom she shares the road (I won’t drive with her behind the wheel, nor may my family members do so). I will find a way to use what I saw and did during this special time. Thanks for the reminder. The issue of powerlessness over aging parents is also a fascinating one, and all too common.

    • Avatar
      claire o'sullivan September 5, 2019 at 12:25 pm #

      Nodding… I get that one. Stubborn, irritable with her cane and cat, and hotter than the scorching sun on a Texas afternoon.

      AND she began to swear. My eyes goggled outta my head. She was a Southern Belle. Never swore. Never drank beyond one martini with my dad. She yelled… yelled at his ashes shaking her cane.

      She became a comedian when she was feeling good, playing poker with her friends… What was next? Smoking a cigar?

  7. Avatar
    Kay Turner September 5, 2019 at 10:47 am #

    Thank you for shining a light on the perspective of writing about characters different from ourselves. That was very relatable, and full of memories of when I was the caregiver for my parents. Now, I’ve tackled, and completed, another task, far from the realm of my “everyday world”. The narrator/ protagonist in my debut novel is a Navy fighter pilot on an aircraft carrier. I guess it’s safe to assume I like challenges.

    I thoroughly look forward to meeting you at the ACFW conference in a few weeks.

  8. Avatar
    Carol Ashby September 5, 2019 at 11:10 am #

    I think it would be difficult to realistically portray how someone lives with a physical limitation if I hadn’t had a good friend who did. My friend lost his sight at 26. When we met, he was in his late 40s, and we were in a group that met for dinner and conversation every week for ten years. Then we were in a Bible study together for another dozen. Because of our friendship, I was able to write the male lead in Blind Ambition, who loses his sight after a head injury.

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    claire o'sullivan September 5, 2019 at 12:32 pm #

    Tamela,

    As usual an insightful post.

    I think we all put a piece of ourselves into our characters. Main characters of mine may have different jobs, or commit crimes, have different environments but they tend to echo my sarcasm, even when writing from a male point of view.

    There are days when I pray I could stop that sarcasm. Well. Not so much.

    My hubby has limitations and on disability but refuses to stop … doing chores at lightning speed then paying for that in horrific pain for days. Even a short travel can be a killer. He… chops… wood. Won’t stop. Mows an acre.

    I put a timer on and make him stop, get hydrated, and rest every 30 minutes. Often gives him enough time to realize just what he has already accomplished work-wise and what he will have in agony.

    Will he go to the doctor? No. Of course not, that would be admission of weakness.

  10. Avatar
    Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D September 5, 2019 at 3:26 pm #

    HI Tamela:
    To add to your swagger comment, when I am out alone (which is frequently, these days), I walk fast and talk loudly, pretending to be on the phone. I announce where I am at that moment, figuring someone who is after me or my belongings will pick on someone who doesn’t have a potential someone close by. I have my phone in my hand, so onlookers can’t tell if I am really on the phone, or not.
    On to other things. I hope that Mr. Hyde is nothing like me. I don’t even want to be Mr. Jekyll, since he gives into the temptation of evil and is defeated by it, even though he starts out nicely. I write mean characters through observation and combining the meanness of more than on person into someone totally unlikable.

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    Karen Sweet September 5, 2019 at 5:08 pm #

    Tamela, seeing life through the eyes of a disabled family member has given me new perspective. I’ve taken him to Walmart since it’s near his home and where he prefers to shop. I now have a profound awareness of the myriad of disabled and elderly folks who shop there, because the prices are so favorable. It’s a different experience than shopping at Macy’s or even Target. And, how the high cost of goods just doesn’t work for people on a very tight budget. I have a greater respect for the people and why they shop there, despite disliking Walmart’s pay treatment of its workers.

    Being in a VA hospital and seeing the wide range of vets getting treatment has opened my eyes to that world. I can only guess at the stories behind the vets presence there. The corridors team with men and women seeking help.

    And, spending time with my mother and a dear church friend as their lives wound down opened my eyes to the different ways people face death. I felt honored and touched to share in both experiences. Perhaps one day these things will make it into my stories. I hope to use them to serve others.

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    Lissa September 6, 2019 at 7:27 am #

    …and….you are the type of character I want to write! One filled with compassion, understanding, and grace. One that can reach a reader no matter where they are and say “slow down just a bit and experience life”, “slow down and spend time with the people who matter”, and “slow down and realize life is not all about you.” For some of us, our disability is our normal. We don’t look at it like everyone else does, nor we can understand the “thorn” in someone else’s side. But as Christian authors, I do believe that we can lead by example – by showing our characters meeting people where they are, not where we want (or expect) them to be. My mom is healthy for her age, but the years of wear and tear on her body are slowing her down and she repeats things..a lot; but at the end of the day, if I slow down, have more patience, and experience the joy in having her in my life, then I believe it will be reflected in my own life and in the characters I write.

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    Ginny Graham September 7, 2019 at 7:26 am #

    Tamela, excellent and thought-provoking blog. Thanks for putting our imaginations to work!

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    Loretta Eidson September 7, 2019 at 9:54 am #

    Love it! Walk with a purpose! I do this too. I’ve heard too many lectures from my retired police husband and his fellow officers that one should always be aware of their surroundings and don’t walk like a “wimp.” I tend to use a toughness for some of my characters which is unlike my overall persona. By the way, I agree with the land yacht theory. I’ve driven my dad’s car and searched for parking spaces that will accommodate his vehicle. He can’t walk the distance, so I go searching for a wheelchair. Such is life. However, all these experiences present excellent ideas for future characters and their predicaments.

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    Karen Ingle September 7, 2019 at 3:01 pm #

    My very first ghostwriting job involved writing a memoir from the perspective of a bold, impassioned man born on the opposite side of the world. (I, on the other hand, am a quiet farm wife from the Midwest.) Our cultural differences alone created an enormous challenge in portraying him and his thoughts accurately. On top of that, I have never visited his war-torn homeland, and only interacted with him in person a few times. My imagination got a good stretch on that project! I found myself constantly praying for insight to carry me beyond my own understanding.

    How did it work? Ultimately, the author was pleased with the result, which was the praise I hoped for.

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