Express Your Point of View

Express Your Point of View

WRITERS ARE LUCKY. We have a built-in desire to communicate; it's a need within us. That's true of all human beings, but we're lucky because we, unlike many others, have the tools to do it. But all too often, we smother that impulse and those means, preferring the safety of silence.

I was a shy kid.

Shy with a capital S. So afraid of meeting with someone's disapproval that I would keep silent in the most extreme of situations. My first day in preschool, I recall with a sting of shame, I wet my pants because I was too shy to ask where the bathroom was. Yes, it was that bad. Sometimes I look back and breathe a sigh of relief that nothing too terrible happened to me, because if it did, I'm sure I wouldn't have spoken up about it.

Looking back on that terrified little kid, I wonder what was going on in her head.

Nothing had traumatized me into this silence; it was just part of my personality. It was extremely difficult for me to speak my point of view. When I went over to another kid's house and the parent asked me what snack I wanted, I wouldn't say for fear of insulting them or seeming greedy. And when friends angered me or hurt my feelings, I bore those feelings in silence, afraid of losing that precious relationship.

I suspect more kids than you think were like this.

There are the loud talkers, the needy kids, the showoffs, and way in the back are the shy ones, desperate to speak up, but scared to. As an adult, I can shake my head and see how much better life is in every way when you risk criticism, and when you speak your mind. Through experience, through growing just a bit older, I can see how speaking your mind becomes a powerful need.

Once I got through the agonies of middle school, I was surprised to discover that speaking up felt good. It still does! There's nothing worse than quietly seething when someone has offended you, or a job isn't being done right; and there's nothing more satisfying than expressing your point of view. This applies to relationships, friendships, coworkers, teachers-you name it. There is always a respectful way to tell the truth; and you are always entitled to feeling a certain way. Once I realized this, I became hard to shut up. I was always the big talker in class. I went on and on. I shared. I overshared. It can be intoxicating, to find yourself listened to and understood. I probably overdid it a little, but I was making up for lost time.

This desire to communicate is what fuels our best writing.

The secret of writing that feels honest and genuine is...writing that is honest and genuine. That doesn't mean you have to spill your deepest darkest secrets. But you must be willing to access parts of yourself that you feel strongly, and that tap into your most powerful desires as a human being. Those emotional landscapes are the ones we want to see, even if they are being put in the minds of entirely fictional characters.

The best fiction is made by its point of view.

Sure, sure, all the fundamentals of creative writing need to be there. Plot, character, and language-that's all good stuff. But I find that point of view is what takes a story into the advanced levels of artistry. What's fascinating about being a human being-among other things, including cheese wiz and optical illusions-is how fantastically limited we are in our point of view. We can only ever know what it's like to be us; everyone else is merely our best guess. We can never really know what's going on in the heads of friends, lovers, siblings, and parents. All we can do is use our imagination and our experience to make an educated guess. That limitation is an endlessly surprising source of tension in fiction. What is Vronsky thinking in Anna Karenina? What is Mr. Darcy thinking in Pride and Prejudice, or Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre? Because we don't have access to these characters, they are an enigma-a delightful, surprising enigma.

So is expressing your point of view part of your lifestyle?

Remember to play with that idea of limitation in your fiction; and remember this truth when it comes to your own life. What you think is obvious about your feelings probably isn't. Most of us are so wrapped up in our own emotional headspace that we miss many of the signs and clues left by others. You think it's obvious that you're mad at your friend? Maybe she thinks everything's fine. The only way to find out is to ask; and to speak.