Story Bite 27: Shifting Perspective

My writing tip for this month is shifting perspective: describing something that might inspire a strong negative reaction in people with positive words. This can be a fun linguistic game, but also a chance to think of how we view things beyond our own initial perspective. In this exercise, we’re going to:

Describe something disgusting with positive words.

Think about the tone you want to take. Be meaningful, or funny, or bitterly ironic. And decide how gross you want to get with your initial image. Here are three mild suggestions:

  • A bug in a piece of fruit
  • A slice of moldy bread
  • A cat’s hairball (recently puked)

Pick one (or your own image). To go beyond the obvious, you’ll want to think about your image from a perspective that would not find it disgusting. What might that be? A scientist or artist might see any one of these three examples as fascinating. Or…someone with an unusual perspective toward life.

Let’s try a scientific perspective first with the bug and apple:

Dr. Singh held up the plum. A small, iridescent green beetle paused in the wound it had eaten in the dense orange flesh. Cotinis mutabilis: a figeater beetle. And yet—Dr. Singh turned the plum to better see the beetle. For an instant, she saw not a pest but a facet of life, a thing of beauty. She watched as it crept, tiny, trusting, and vulnerable among the fragrant fruit.

I’m not a fan of similar beetles that I have in my area (which decimate my roses each year), but I’ve sometimes noticed that they’re actually rather beautiful. And so in this description, even with a scientist who knows well what damage a figeater beetle will cause, she’s able to feel wonder and see it as a fellow creature in this world.

Now let’s try an artist looking at the piece of moldy bread:

That moldy bread—it was a canvas, so colorful, a sea of textures and shapes. I touched my brush tip to my paint and speckled black onto the crown of blue and white on my own canvas. That mold—it was soft, towering, encompassing. It was like the earth coming back, demanding its wheat and water, a full circle of life given to life.

A visual artist would take apart an image into its color and shape. In this brief sketch, I wanted the artist to also think about what their image could symbolize.

Now let’s try the cat’s puked-up hairball from the perspective of someone who has a slightly different perspective:

There it was, on the carpet, glistening in the sun: a boon from my princess. I could not believe she had left this glorious mound of fur and saliva for me, her sniveling, miserable underling. In awe, I crept close. It was warm to the touch, soft against my fingers. As I lifted it, my eyes grew wet. When had I ever deserved this bounty?

I’m not sure that anyone has ever had this reaction to a cat’s puked-up hairball, but what if someone was so obsessed with their cat that they saw it as a gift? This would be a fun character to write!

Part of this exercise is to experiment in perspective, but also to expand what you see. A crack in the sidewalk might be the entrance to a fantasy world. A decaying tree is most certainly home to many creatures. And a moldy piece of bread could be a metaphor, as well as a nice addition to a compost pile.

Now how about a snack?

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