Vantage Point: Writing with Truth and Authenticity

How you see an event, is usually how you write the story.

Our writing comes out of what is within us. News reporters used to try to keep their personal bias out of an article. For the most part those days are long gone, but the bottom line is we write from our perspective or what we believe we see.

Did you ever see the movie "Vantage Point"? One scene was repeated over and over in the movie, but seen from the eyes or vantage point of eight different individuals. It was all based on where they were and what they saw that gave them their perspective. The "reality" of what they saw from one individual to another was vastly different.

Remember the social media buzz over the white/gold dress or was it a blue/black dress? 

It is important to recognize as a writer that whether you are writing a news story, retelling someone else's story or giving an editorial perspective, there is always more than one side to a story. It's important to research those perspectives. We don't always see that in writing today.

When we write, we have the ability to guide or lead the emotions and thought process of the reader by our words. We see this all the time in the media. Consider the following headlines of recent days:

"The Supreme Court Rules"

"Supreme Court Ruling: Threat To American Democracy"

"Supreme Court Rules: A Day of Equality"

One event. Three different headlines. Two indicating perspective and bias. It's all about the spin.

Below are two versions of the same story. This is a real event that happened to me this summer. I'm adding my own spin to it to show just how out of control a story can get when we write only from one perspective.

One story. Two versions.

Two very different versions.

See for yourself...


Version #1 - Karen's Version

The sky was clear, the sun had burned off the overcast haze from the rain the night before. It was clear and beautiful. Good thing. My vision was acting up again from RK surgery years before. I could see to drive in the daylight, but details such small words on signs, small objects or facial recognition were hard to distinguish.

I topped the hill of the unfamiliar road. I didn't notice the two bikers pulled to the side of the road until I was almost alongside them. (Remember I'm dealing with the eye issue.) As a lone female driving, I gave only a cursory glance. But as I passed I noticed one of the bikers was waving at me. Not a frantic "Hey, I need help and I'm trying to flag you down," type wave, but a "Hi, there," friendly kind of wave.

OK, that was weird. I was already past the bikers when the realization hit, "Hey, I think that might have been, my friend, John."

I turned my head back to take another glance. Bad move. As I did, I crossed the middle line to oncoming traffic causing a loud roar from the road indentions in the center which are there to alert a driver that they have crossed the line. Yeah, I got it. Startled, I jerked the car back over into my lane...and kept going.

OK, yes in retrospect, I probably should have dawned on me that someone pulled over on the side of the road probably needed assistance, but in all honesty it didn't...and least not immediately. I was still shaken from the loud roar from crossing over the median line and working to make my eyes focus. Was that John on the side of the road? If it was, surely he would call to let me know I just passed him and he needed help, I thought as I continued down the road.


Version #2 - John's Version:

The sky was clear, the sun having burned off the overcast haze from the rain the night before. It was clear and beautiful, the perfect day for a ride.

"Hey, I might be low on gas. I'm going to go on ahead of you," John said to his riding buddy. "You can meet me in town."

Hopping on his Harley, he pulled out of the state park and headed for town and a gas station. He only got a few miles down the road before he had to pull over. He wasn't almost out of gas. He was out of gas. A few minutes later his friend pulled up behind him.

"I see you didn't make it," he said with a laugh.

"Not a problem," I just called a college kid I know is in town. He's had to bail me out of tight spaces before," John said with a laugh. "He should be here soon."

As the two stood and talked on the side of the road, John kept his eyes on the road for their rescue. Not long after he saw a blue Toyota coming toward them. As it neared, he recognized the vehicle and driver. He waved. Not a frantic "Hey, I need help and I'm trying to flag you down," type wave, but a "Hi, there," friendly kind of wave.

"What's up with that?" John said almost to himself. "I know Karen saw me as she sped past. She looked straight at me. But not a wave. No acknowledgement. Nothing. Is she even turning around?" John asked his friend.

About that time he heard what sounded like the gunning of an engine as the blue Toyota sped away...

"OMG, did she just rev her engine to speed up? Boy talk about friends...."

(Note: This may not have actually been voiced, but I'm sure it did cross his mind, I mean seriously, who would just pass a friend by on the side of the road?)

This story is true and unfortunately I was the driver that sped past leaving my friend stranded to be rescued by the college student but not before a Bandido, (a biker gang known for their rough ways and illegal actions) had seen them and stopped to help. Yeah, I'll never live that one down. The Bandido stopped. The "friend" didn't.

The point is there was just one event, but two versions. They were both true if you based it on vantage point of what appeared to have happened. Neither, however, is 100% accurate.

It's always about perspective.

As a writer you have the opportunity to hear and process news, stories and events and put them down on paper for other people to read. It is important to recognize that if someone is telling you their story it is coming through their filter. Even if you personally see an event take place, like the movie "Vantage Point" it doesn't mean you accurately saw every detail.

When we wield our pen it can be like wielding a sword. Words can hurt and a word-painted picture can be hard to replace once the image is thrown out for digestion.

As a writer, you may choose to take on or weigh in on important issues of our day. But as you do remember perspective.

Remember words have power. So do writers.

Use that power wisely.

Karen Hardin - Literary Agent and Marketing Guru
PriorityPR Group & Literary Agency