Perception Filter

An interesting concept, to be sure. I read once (and also heard someone speak on the fact) that everyone views life through their own perception filter, even without realizing it. What is a perception filter, you ask? It is a culmination of your entire backstory.

So why am I writing about this? Because it’s the same for your characters. Their backstory will affect their perception filter, the way they see the world. So many things come together to make this, that it’s best if your really know your character’s backstory, so that you know how s/he will see the things around him/her.

Let’s talk backstory, then.

For the beginning of this lesson, (and yes, it is a lesson) I will refer back to the crazy people known as fandoms that I mentioned in my first blog post. They’re really very helpful when it comes to teaching about writing, and I’ll tell you how. Without realizing it, those crazy people expose just HOW MUCH work went into writing those books and movies. I won’t go into all the details here (maybe in a later post, we’ll talk about fandoms) but I will use a few examples of what I’ve seen these people write that lends itself to backstory.

Example #1 – The Avengers/Loki fandom

One of the craziest fandoms out there. (Seriously. Don’t make them mad, they may maul you) However, they have great insight into Loki’s backstory in Marvel’s The Avengers. They wonder about where he went after the first Thor movie, and they deduce that he’s been through something terrible to make him so mean (their words, not mine). How did they get this much backstory on him, even though he didn’t say a word about it?

Insinuation.

Insinuation is your friend. Love it. Cherish it. Keep it close. Just because you know every single detail about your character’s backstory (which, by the way, is simply everything that happened before the book begins), doesn’t mean you have to tell the readers.

In a novel I wrote during NaNoWriMo last year, the following conversation happened.

“You’re wondering if there’s anything you could have done different, and you’re blaming yourself.”

“How could you possibly know that?”

“Because I do!” She crossed her arms and set her jaw.

Liam stopped to think, and finally came up with one question. “What happened to you?”

“Life.”

I didn’t tell you anything about what happened in her past, but look closely at the dialogue. She never addresses the questions head-on, and she never says what she’s really thinking. However, her comments lend themselves to her backstory. I personally think (but I could be biased) that her last statement, “Life”, denotes a tough experience she’s had in her past. I never say as much, but it is insinuated!

Example #2 – The Frozen/Disney Princesses fandom

Okay, not my favorite movie, you can like it if you want, Disney and I just don’t always get along.

Moving on.

Disney did a very clever thing when they (either on purpose or accidentally on genius) made the backstory to their movies connect. I put this under the Frozen Fandom category, because that is when people stood up and took notice.

More than one person has pointed out that the ship that Elsa’s parents are in looks exactly like the one in The Little Mermaid, and that Elsa and Anna’s mother looks eerily similar to the queen from Tangled.

When character’s backstories connect, it brings yet another depth to your writing. That guy she runs into, maybe she’s met him before. That coincidental witness, maybe s/he knows the villain. Things get interesting when characters know things about another character’s backstory that they shouldn’t. Try it some time.

Okay, so I know I started out talking about perception filters and kind of digressed from there, but now I’m back.

Reasons you should see life through your character’s eyes, not your own: 1) it brings them to life, 2) it makes them more credible, 3) your readers will go gaga for someone with his own, realistic world views.

But, how do you know how to build your character’s perception filter? Glad you asked! I have a list for you.

backstory
Look! A list! Kind of a worksheet, but trust me, it’ll be fun! Go ahead and download it.

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Did you like what you read today? Do you have questions, comments, or cat-killing curiosity about something? If so, please either comment on this post or visit the Contact page and drop me a note!

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