How To Make Your Book Stand Out – It’s All In The Perspective

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“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” — Oscar Wilde

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I was photographing this mini-sunflower a few days ago, getting as close to it as I could and still keep the camera focused. It was early in the morning and I was trying to take advantage of the fact that the sun was still low on the horizon. Things look different when the light hits them sideways instead of shining down from above; that’s why many professional photographers refer to the first and last hours of the day as the “magic hours.”

But try as I might, I could not for the life of me get a picture that rose above the average. It was just one close-up after another of a bright yellow flower and a tiny bumble bee. Photography will never be more than a casual hobby for me, but I still like to try to capture the best image I can–and it wasn’t happening.

What am I doing wrong here, I kept asking myself. Why don’t any of these shots have any life? Any pizazz?

That’s when I got low. I laid flat on my back, so I was looking up at the flower. And I got this shot, which was exactly the kind of picture I was hoping for. It was the kind of picture I knew the raw material was there for, but I just hadn’t found the angle yet. It’s the blue sky contrasting against the sunflower that makes this pop.

Writing is much the same way. I’ve heard and read enough from many of the regular MW readers to know that the raw material is there. The interesting scenarios are there. The characters are there. But if you’re looking at all of your own great raw material and saying “It doesn’t pop” then I want you to ask yourself if there’s another angle you could look at your characters and situations from. Is there an angle that will bring your main character into sharp contrast with something or someone? Is there a perspective you can view your story from that will put unexpected color into the situation?

An experiment I tried once a few years ago that netted results I was really pleased with was that I purposely stopped writing every time I got to a point where my main character was going to make a decision, and whatever my first instinct was, whatever that thing on the tip of my tongue was that I was about to have my character do, I had the character do the exact opposite. It often took a few moments to figure out a way to make that “opposite” thing make sense, but I not only found a good, logical reason every time, I found myself thinking this was a far more interesting choice for the character and the story than what I had first thought of. I made myself look at every situation from a different perspective, and was always glad I did.

One other thing I want to make sure doesn’t escape your notice is that photography, like writing, frequently takes many drafts to get the results you’re after. I probably took 12 to 15 photographs before I got the one posted here. Similarly, you can’t be afraid to write draft after draft of your story. It frequently takes all those bad drafts to help you identify what you don’t want. Once you’ve identified what you don’t want, it becomes that much easier to identify what you do want, and then you’re off to the races.

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18 comments to How To Make Your Book Stand Out – It’s All In The Perspective

  • I love taking flower/plant photos and I sometimes like angles that you don’t expect. I’ve got some that I took of Bonsai trees from an angle that makes ’em look like larger trees. Like you’re looking up through the branches of a larger tree. I only wish I had a better camera than the old Kodak EasyShare C875 to do it with.

    My favorite attempt, if the link comes through:
    http://i24.photobucket.com/albums/c9/DanSJVDavis/Franklin%20Park%20Conservatory/100_2904.jpg?t=1241959085
    I like how the light’s coming through it.

    Interesting exercise. I may have to actually try it on some of my stalled pieces.

  • Thanks for sharing the photo, Daniel. I’ve always had a fascination for bonsai. Made more than a few in my days working at a garden center. Killed a few, too. It’s an art (keeping them, not killing them).

  • Gorgeous picture! (Daniel’s, too!). Interesting post and I think it will help with my WIP and possibly with a couple short stories I’ve got in my brain. Having characters act against my first impulse will at least give me a new perspective, even if I go back to my original choice.

  • That’s what it’s all about, Emily: a new perspective. I hope it serves you well.

  • Wow, nice photos! I love photography as well and took almost thirty pictures once to get a magnolia just right.
    Changing my characters decisions seems like great advice. This could spice up some dull scenes. Thanks!

  • mudepoz

    Oh goodness, I look at that and see the Fibonacci number. And work. Gorgeous pictures. Since I’m on draft number Pi, I figure I’ll take a view from down here on the ground. Heat exhaustion from working in an over 100 degree greenhouse without cooling. It’s on a great lake, we don’t get many really hot days. Oh, sometimes I subscribe to “you just get lucky”
    http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1515547124419&set=a.1515545204371.2069490.1106691725&type=1&theater if this doesn’t work…
    http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1515545204371.2069490.1106691725&l=7304441318

  • Shweet! I’ve got a couple butterfly pics in my pics on FB. Got one where you can see the pattern on its eye.

  • Great butterfly, mudepoz. Now you need to tell us a story about it… 😉

  • Razziecat

    Great photos, all of them! That’s a skill I don’t have.

    I like the writing exercise. This may help me kick-start a few things that are lagging. Thanks!

  • Beautiful photos, Edmund, Daniel and Mud! Edmund: I love the way the light gives the sunflower a warm glow.

    And the exercise sounds like a great idea. I have a trunked piece that will definitely need a perspective change when I eventually pull it out of storage. I’ll remember that. Thanks!

  • mudepoz

    Edmund, I did. It was serendipity. I was working on the terrace prairie, grabbed my iPod, and took the shot. I’m a great believer in serendipity and luck. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. I guess that’s just how I view life, my writing, and my success or failure. So, whatever my idiot characters pull, it’s by luck and chance. If I could fix it, I might have a book someday 😛 (however, I did manage to earn a population genetics degree totally based on serendipity! (Well, and getting lost).

  • Unicorn

    I have a depressing amount of close-ups of horses’ noses. If anyone ever sees me trying to get a good picture, they’ll think (quite accurately) I’ve lost my marbles: do you know how much jumping up and down, arm-waving, shouting, whistling and calling it takes to get a placid horse to look your way and prick up both its ears?
    On a more serious note – Thanks for the post, Edmund, that will definitely help with my current first draft, which has hit a sticky patch. I find myself carefully planning my way into a conflict and then finding absolutely no resolution for it. I’m rather intimidated by the next combat scene that’s coming up, I know how it begins but I have no idea how it ends; I’ll have to take my own protagonist’s advice and just wing it.
    Unicorn

  • Razzie – A quote from a book I read years ago: “Talent is cheap–what counts is determination.” Story of my life right there.

    Laura — In my experience, the vast majority of trunked pieces have been put there for a reason, and going backwards has limited value. If you like the experiment, try it something new.

    mudepoz — Getting lost gets one a degree in population genetics? This is a story I need to hear.

  • mudepoz

    Um. Yeah. When you work with an endangered species and you find some populations because you weren’t in the right place, it helps. Breaking off a flower spike, and destroying what could have been a new generation of plants, and deciding to get rid of the evidence by grinding it up to run a gel on it and discovering that the tannins from the leaves were gumming up the works and the spikes worked very well, as did early leaves. Well, serendipity. Luck. Chance.
    Or maybe I just work outside the box and don’t know it:) On the internet no one knows that you are a scientist. Or a dog. Oh, the plants send out multiple spikes. No blood, no foul.

  • Excellent comparison, photography and writing. I’m sure David will be excited to see this.

    I like the idea of having your character choose something different. Even just going through that process as an author gives you options your character can consider and reject in the story, creating more thoughtfulness than if you just had the character plunge from disaster to new objective.

    I’ve sort of started mapping out possible decisions on paper, and it’s interesting to see what comes up, even the stuff that you know you’re not going to pick. One that never seems to come up in stories is, “I quit.” I’m sure if we were in our character’s shoes we’d want to just pack it in sometimes and go home. Of course, it can be overdone and make your character seem whiny if they’re always considering giving up.

    Anyway, this really got me thinking. Thanks, Edmund.

    Cheers,
    NGD

  • Morning, Dave. I agree, both that “I quit” is an interesting option that you don’t see all that often, and that you probably shouldn’t do it more than once. The first example I can think of where something like that happened was in the original Star Wars movie, when Han Solo got his reward and took off. “What good is a reward if you’re not around to spend it?” Of course, he came back, because that’s what heroes do… but it was still a nice turn.

  • Daniel, that was a fabulous shot. Wonderfully composed. As is the sunflower, Edmund. Sadly, photography is not a skill I have. In part, I have learned, because one of the important components of skill in photography appears to be having a high-powered and high-priced camera, and I cannot justify paying that much to take pictures… Those things seem to be able to capture an art that normal digital cameras, no matter how well composed your framing, can never capture. But I still long to be able to do that, sometimes.

    I content myself with writing and the occassional pencil drawing instead. I’m no true artist, drawing-wise, but I’m not terrible.