By James M. Jackson
Answer me this: It’s summer. I point to any sugar maple in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan forest my protagonist Seamus McCree calls home and ask, what color are its leaves?
We all know the answer: green.
Yet, what I cannot know is if the “green” you see is the same “green” I see. We were both taught by parents, teachers, books that sugar maple leaves in the summer are green. The grass on our lawns is also green (if we watered and fertilized, otherwise it might be brown). We can agree on the physics: light reflecting from a particular leaf has the same wavelength regardless of the viewer. Differences arise when those light waves reach our eyes, and our brains interpret them.
My son’s eyes have a higher proportion of green cones than normal, which, doctors tell me, means he sees green more brightly than I. That may explain why his favorite clothing as a toddler were his green Oshkosh B’gosh overalls. (Or maybe they fit better than anything else.) But it doesn’t tell me what he sees, nor can he know what I see. And while we have a physical explanation of why my son and I should see differently, the fact is, I don’t know what you see when you look at a leaf either.
It’s not simply our physical differences that cause us to experience the world differently. We process and evaluate information based on our previous experiences. Writing from a character’s point of view requires me to put on their blinders, employ their filters, experience and describe the world as the character would. Seamus is a numbers guy, and he asks questions like: “On a scale of one to ten . . .” He thinks more often than he feels. He enjoys being outdoors, and he particularly enjoys birdwatching. Even if he’s not actively birdwatching, he notices their colors, their mannerisms, their songs, and when they are quiet. His brain’s overload filter lets in all things bird.
Others might block out the birds and notice instead faint tracks in the dirt, a broken twig, crushed grass from the passing of an animal. Still others might ignore nature altogether, worried only about mosquitoes and ticks and making it back home in time for their daily glass of wine without wolves, bears or cougars attacking them.
Different perspectives can lead to conflict, even death. Sometimes they provide a humorous character insight. That happens in the “eagle subplot” in Granite Oath, the seventh Seamus McCree novel. The subplot kicks off with Megan, Seamus’s eight-year-old granddaughter announcing, “Grampa Seamus. We’re training an eagle.”
Later, after Seamus witnesses Megan and her friend Valeria calling in a family of eagles to grab fish they have left, Megan explains how it started:
“We accidentally left a fish on the dock and saw the eagle grab it.” She slid me a look. “Pier. You told me. Piers stay in the water, docks come out for winter. We did a science experiment and left one on purpose. The fish have to be keepers. They won’t come for the little ones.”
Seamus thinks to himself that the kids aren’t training an eagle, the eagle is training the kids.
Same event, different perspectives. I’m sure you’ve experienced something similar, and I’d loved to hear about it in the comments.
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James M. Jackson authors the Seamus McCree series. Full of mystery and suspense, these domestic thrillers explore financial crimes, family relationships, and what happens when they mix. August 2022 saw publication of the 7th novel in the series, Granite Oath. (Click here for information and purchase links.)
Jim splits his time between the wilds of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and the city life in Madison, WI. You can find more information about Jim and his books at https://jamesmjackson.com or contact him via email.