Sunday, September 25, 2011

We Can't Repel Bias of this Magnitude!

This week, I've been cooking up a short story inspired by the Five for Fighting song posted at the top of my home page. It takes place from the point of view two characters with two very different perspectives of both the world and their shared situation. Sometime around last month, I posted my thoughts on bias and stereotypes as they relate to writing characters. It's an important topic and it highly relates to my current project, so I've decided to cover a slightly different aspect of it.

"Oh no," you say. "Not the dreaded and much-maligned repost!"

It's not that bad, I promise. Bear with me, it'll be worth it, I swear.....wait, I can never remember if it's



Oh well, I guess it doesn't really matter. Anywho, once more unto the purpose of this post.

Today, I want to talk about perspective. Everyone, as in us humans, perceives the world in different ways. As I discussed before, people form personal constructs or stereotypes based on how they view the world. Because we all have different personal experiences or beliefs, personal constructs and simple perceptions therefore vary from person to person. And because fiction, at its heart, is simply a simulation of real or imagined life, we generally want our characters to reflect this. A classic example of this (stolen shamelessly from the guys at Writing Excuses) is to have a hypothetical full cup of water sitting on a hypothetical table in a hypothetical room. 3 people walk into said room and see the cup. Each person (if they were real) would have somewhat different thoughts regarding the cup of water. For example, a nomad from the desert would view the cup of water differently than someone hailing from a more fertile climate.

Now, because I love fun examples, I'm gonna try to demonstrate this further. The example I'm going to use is...

wait for it......

Oh, yes I did. And yes. It is a trap.

Herein lies a valuable lesson within a lesson for everyone: You can learn something for everyone and everything. I promise you that Admiral Ackbar, commander of the Rebel fleet and failed University of Mississippi mascot candidate, has something to teach us about writing perspective.

At the time Ackbar discovers the potentially-fatal Imperial ambush and emphatically delivers his famous lines, several different things might have been going through his fishy head. Let us consider some of the things we know about our dear Admiral:
  1. Admiral Ackbar is a member of the Calamari species (I can't believe Lucas named them that), who risked everything to support the fledgling Rebel Alliance. If the Alliance fails, his people will most likely suffer greatly and/or be wiped out by the Empire.
  2. Ackbar is an Admiral and leader of the Rebel Fleet participating in the Battle of Endor. By nature, the small Rebel Alliance must be a tight-knit group. He likely cares a great deal about those whom he commands.
  3. Lastly, the Admiral is in a dire situation. He has just discovered that his hopes, friends, entire species, and own life are likely about to go up in a fiery miasma of Death-Star-operational-ness. 
So, when he utters his famous lines, "It's a trap!" and "We can't repel fire of that magnitude!", it initially seems a bit absurd and sensationalist. However, when we viewed through the lens of his perspective, Ackbar's reaction is quite understandable and appropriate.

When we write characters, we want to get into their heads. What are they thinking and feeling at the moment? How does their past affect them? These questions and others must be considered when we make our characters, and once considered, their actions should match accordingly -- for characters are simulations and analogs for real humans, and they must be real to us for them to be real for our readers. If we fail, and write characters based on stereotypes and give them no motivations and thoughts to inform on their action, the results will be flat and uninteresting. Remember, everyone (and every character) perceives the world in different ways. Write accordingly.

As always, thank y'all for reading. If you like it, feel free to share it and/or comment. I love hearing what everyone has to say. Until next time...

Beware of traps,



  1. Jarryd, I always love your POV. You have a gift for stating what should be obvious -- but sometimes isn't :) Great post !

  2. I always thought it was interesting to hear about writers knowing everything about each character down to what they had for dinner the night before, favorite meals, birthdays, boxer/briefs/commando, even when that info is never intended to be mentioned in the story. So, in that case, do you think the Calamari wear underpants?

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  4. @Candice - Thanks! @Cole - I doubt Ackbar would deem to inform me of his choice of undergarment. You'd have to ask him or George Lucas :)