Writers of fiction see the world in a slightly different manner than most everyone else in the room. Rather than formulate a solid position on any given subject, they seek to understand how others have come to their conclusions. They see both sides of an issue – inside out and in-between.
This is not to say they have no opinion, but rather; their opinion is subject to influence. In the New Testament, they are the ones “tossed about by every wind of doctrine.”
Some may view this as a weakness, and they are probably right. Not holding to one solid, unwielding point of view makes one appear ungrounded and “wishy-washy.” Stolidly religious types would quote the Ephesians 4 verse and challenge one’s grasp of basic reality.
But the truth of the matter is, writers see every situation, subject, scene and happenstance from a multitude of angles. When they create a character, they know every reaction to every conceivable situation. They know if Norman Solomon does x, then y will happen. But, if Norman Solomon did y instead, perhaps z would happen.
How could one perceive these vicissitudes if not for the ability to see every situation and issue from a multiplicity of perspectives?
Michel de Montaigne opined, in his Essay, Of the Inconsistency of Our Actions:
It is a hard matter, from all antiquity, to pick out a dozen men who have formed their lives to one certain and constant course, which is the principal design of wisdom; for to comprise it all in one word, says one of the ancients, and to contract all the rules of human life into one, “it is to will, and not to will, always one and the same thing: I will not vouchsafe,” says he, “to add, provided the will be just, for if it be not just, it is impossible it should be always one.” I have indeed formerly learned that vice is nothing but irregularity, and want of measure, and therefore ’tis impossible to fix constancy to it. ‘Tis a saying of Demosthenes, “that the beginning of all virtue is consultation and deliberation; the end and perfection, constancy.” If we would resolve on any certain course by reason, we should pitch upon the best, but nobody has thought on’t:["That which he sought he despises; what he lately lost, he seeks again. He fluctuates, and is inconsistent in the whole order of life."—Horace, Ep., i. I, 98.]
Montaigne argues that consistency, while a modern virtue of his time (and ours), is an impossible standard to bear. For we are a product of our experiences, – if we allow for them – and to lock oneself into a finite state of being is to deny our humanity.
The task of the writer, then, is to help us to see things from another point of view even as we stand our ground. They create characters to give voice to those other perspectives that hover just beneath the surface of our resolute positions.
Creative writers are keen observers of life, always aware and always prepared to abandon last decade’s or last week’s point of view for the one they overheard at a cocktail party the other night.
In the novel Tea Party the main character, Jensen Michaels, is set on a course of action that comes from a deeply set conviction of what he perceives as Truth. However, as circumstances unfold, the basis of this verity is revealed a lie. Does Jensen stay the course despite the revelation, or does he reorient his worldview?
In real life, we are reluctant to admit when we are following a false course of action or philosophy. We dig in and construct all manner of rationalizations to justify continuing in a direction we now suspect is false.
A novelist can transcend this tendency of human nature by instructing his or her characters to alter their actions as the new information is realized. In this way, writers can act as a catalyst for change.
It is the ability to imagine things from the other perspective that enables a novelist to transcend the common view.
"Malum consilium est, quod mutari non potest." "'Tis evil counsel that will admit no change." —Publius.