Friday, November 22, 2013

It Depends How You Look At It

It was the 1970s and I was in college. I worked at the library and one of my jobs was to take films out of the library, set up the projector, and then show the film. One of the brightest lights in Christendom back then was a philosopher named Francis Schaeffer. He came out with a series of films called "How Should We Then Live?" These discussed general trends in western civilization and their relationship to Christianity first as a slave-religion in ancient Rome then the dominant world-view of Europe, and then its decline of influence.

I watched it again a few years ago and realized it had not aged as well as it ought.

The last film of a series like this invariably touches upon the future and what to expect. When you do a historical survey of the last two thousand years, patterns and trends appear that cry out to be extrapolated into the future. Or that's what the audience expects.

And since I'm as much of a sucker as anyone for someone pontificating over a crystal ball, I paid careful attention to that last episode. 

You must recall that this was the 1970s and we'd all read 1984 and 1984 was in the future. Since I was expecting the Rapture and the Tribulation at any minute, wild theories of the Beast and 666 being implemented with computers and bar codes danced through my head at night.

This must have conditioned Francis Schaeffer's thinking as well because he spent the last episode of this film series talking about the government. One part of his argument was the way in which mass media can manipulate public opinion. He showed two made-up news reports of a conflict between some police and protesters.

The pro-government report showed the cops valiantly defending themselves against a bunch of violent protesters. The pro-protester report showed the protesters getting beat up by brutal cops and fighting back. Both reports showed exactly what was happening, and the only difference between them was the way the shots were cropped and the direction from which the scenes were filmed.

The pair of photos on the left is a good example of this. PLEASE ignore the text overlaying the image.

I don't really want to make this about gun or anti-gun. Your opinions for or against human rights, are up to you and I don't want to change your mind on the subject.

In the top picture, you get the idea that a crowd of insurgents are bracing for an assault. But from the other In the bottom picture, you get the idea that some folks are having some fun posing with guns.

I am interested in how the writer can use perspective in his or her storytelling.

It can be a lot of fun to write a scene where the reader sees something like the top half of the picture above. The reader gets the idea that one thing is going on when you, as the writer know for certain that something different is going on. Ambiguity is one of many tools the writer that you can use to keep something interesting and just a little less predictable.

Think of something your hero will do that puts him in a bad light. Or something your villain does that puts him in a good light. Do just enough of this to mix things up. If you overdo it you risk making your readers hate your hero and love your villain.

Keep a light hand and just keep things interesting.

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