Thursday, June 23, 2016

Extra Points for Viewpoints

Posted by: CobraMisfit
"Luke, you're going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view."
-Obiwan, Return of the Jedi

Many moons ago, I took a college course on Ethics. The classwork was interesting, but also maddening because most of the topics danced along the lines of morality. Stealing is bad, but what if you can't afford medicine and need to save a life? Killing is bad, but what if someone else is threatened? 

Most days, we live in a binary world. One of right and wrong. Of good and evil. Often times there are thick lines between the two with little to no crossing. Do I hate getting a parking ticket two minutes after the meter runs out? Absolutely. But the parking attendant is doing their job to ensure those times are enforced. If I violate the "law", I'm subject to the consequences. Silly as it may seem, sticking to the right and wrong of little laws like that are what keep our society from declining into madness.

But that doesn't mean it makes for a good story. 

Writers work hard to ensure readers care about their characters and we want them to ride the emotional roller coaster with them. For many of us, our worlds are built with clear laws and defined boundaries. But if our characters stayed within those lines, it'd likely be a boring story. Crossing the streams, as it were, adds excitement and tension. Many times, the morality of a choice depends on the character's point of view. 

Take Harry Potter, for example. In almost every book, he's doing something "wrong" for what he believes is the greater good. He breaks curfew, keeps secrets, and undermines the authority figures at Hogwarts in his ever expanding battle with Lord Voldemort. He consistently defies the Powers That Be because it's the "right thing to do." 

It's interesting that The Order of the Phoenix nearly addresses this subject head on. Dolores Umbridge, a truly hideous human being if we're being honest, is simply attempting to keep her world in order. Struggling to do what she feels is right. From her point of view, Potter and his ilk are rabble-rousers. Miscreants bucking the very structured and extremely "correct" letter of the law.  

But the story is titled Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. The readers are seeing the world from his point of view. Not Dolores Umbridges'. We're joined at Harry's hip the entire way, enjoying the ride as he veers farther and farther from the structured rules of right and wrong. 

“People who claim that they're evil are usually no worse than the rest of us... It's people who claim that they're good, or any way better than the rest of us, that you have to be wary of.” 

― Gregory MaguireWicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West

If there's one story that absolutely skirts the line on points of view, it's Wicked. For those of us who lived in the world before this book hit the shelves, the Wicked Witch of the West was straight up evil. She hounds Dorothy, lights Scarecrow on fire, and basically makes life in Oz horrible. 

With Wicked, however, we have a chance to see "other" side to The Wizard of Oz. Like viewing the negatives of film, the moral colors and character personalities are inverse. The lines between Right and Wrong aren't as clearly defined, specifically because we are seeing the story from the Witch's point of view. Good Witches aren't quite as perfect and little girls from Kansas not so great. 

Ultimately, writers have a tough task when it comes to placing their characters into a world of their creation. For some, keeping our characters on the straight and narrow, no matter what the cost, is the right choice. For others, allowing them the freedom to cross the lines between Right and Wrong for the "greater good" is even better. But no matter what, we should always keep in mind that a good story needs to be told, or more important experienced, from a certain point of view. 


Joshua Roots is a car enthusiest, beekeeper, and storyteller. He enjoys singing with his a cappella chorus, golf, and all facets of Sci-Fi/Fantasy. He's still waiting for his acceptance letter to Hogwarts and Rogue Squadron. He and his wife will talk your ear off about their bees if you let them.

His Urban Fantasy series, The Shifter Chronicles, is available wherever digital books are sold.

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