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shweta_narayan
This is cobbled together from IM conversation with tithenai and kirizal, and grounded in recent lj-discussions, me thinking about my own writing, and my brain being rearranged by one of my advisor's papers on viewpoint (she does this.) So it's sort of about Everything, as understood by Shweta.

ETA: If this sparks a response post of any sort, I do hope you'll link it here! I have no energy/focus for more than the minimal necessities at present (appearances are deceptive!) and have not been following my f-list.

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We learn as writers that we need to know our fiction's point of view, and be consistent, and think about how things look like through a character's eyes and brain.

(This has always been pretty weird to me, in the "but what else could we possibly do?" sense. Not that I've always done it (or always do it) well, but it never did occur to me that there was an alternative. I don't think this is just me, and want to get back to it in a bit.)

Anyway, as writers, we don't seem to talk so much about why that matters to readers. As a cognitive linguist, I've got a thought about that: it's that it matters to humans. Viewpoint* is the combination of physical/social/cognitive givens that underlie and structure of everything we think, everything we say, every gesture we make, every understanding we have of anything. This is true both for physical viewpoint (consider what on earth "here" or "that" or "the" or "yesterday" might mean without an assumed physical viewpoint) and cognitive viewpoint (consider what "our" or "scary" or "if I were you" could possibly mean without an assumed cognitive viewpoint).

So if it's fundamental to human cognition, why would it be hard for writers to get right? I think because it's implicit, and it's very seldom conscious. This stuff is invisible, precisely because it's everywhere. So when do we notice?

Not just when we get it wrong. When our noses are rubbed in the fact that we've got it wrong.

- When someone says "your point of view is screwy here," and we get that zero-g stomach-doing-flips sense of I have done something fundamentally wrong.

- When someone says "Wow, your representation of [CULTURE] plays into racist stereotypes," or "No way anyone who was really from [CULTURE] would do that," and we get that zero-g stomach-doing-flips sense of I have done something fundamentally wrong.

- When someone says "Picking and choosing from oppressed cultures for your pretties is appropriative," and we get that zero-g stomach-doing-flips sense of I have done something fundamentally wrong.

- When the voices we have been socialized to ignore and belittle grow too many to ignore and belittle, and we get that zero-g stomach-doing-flips sense of I have done something fundamentally wrong.

- For those of us from non-dominant cultures, every hour of every day when someone just blithely assumes that of course we know that [SOMETHING ALIEN TO OUR VIEWPOINT], unless we assimilate enough that the dominant viewpoints surrounding us don't grate and jar and hurt, every hour of every day.

- For those of us who live between cultures**, every hour of every day when "our" people from different cultures blithely assume that of course we know that [CONTRADICTORY THINGS]. No matter what we do to assimilate to anyone/everyone.


So yeah, viewpoint errors and conflicts? REALLY REALLY SUCK. Defensiveness and anger aren't exactly surprising responses.

But know what sucks more? Always having to deal with the dominant culture's point of view, and finding, when you finally get to read a story about a non-dominant culture you're invested in, that it's written from the dominant culture's unconsidered viewpoint.
That's what.

Cut at this point for ZOMG! lengthCollapse )

* Oh yeah -- writers say Point of View (POV), linguists say Viewpoint (VP.) I'm using Viewpoint here because I mean the pervasive, underlying, unconscious stuff, and I do not mean what person one is writing in.

** I am not bi-or-multi-racial, and I have no insight into issues specific to being bi-or-multi-racial. I and all my formative experiences are multicultural, and I'm certainly trying to figure that out.