Thursday, September 12, 2013

What Is Personal Perspective, Really?

An It's Complicated! — Authentic Voices guest post by author, A.S. King.

Writing outside of my “personal perspective” is easy because I am fascinated by human beings, and not particularly fascinated by myself.

And what is personal perspective? Is it the body I am in? This physical, sometimes smelly, sometimes sunburnt, sometimes arthritic shell? Is it the color of my skin? The house I grew up in? The amount in my parents’ bank account in 1984? Is it my family’s traditions during holidays? How often we went to church—or the fact that it wasn’t often? This question of personal perspective concerns me because it seems to be the thing a writer is supposed to transcend when he or she writes a novel. It’s also the thing a writer is supposed to plug into. It’s tricky like that.

When thinking about my characters and how they relate to me and more importantly, how they don’t relate to me, I find the dissimilar parts the least important. For example: I am not a young man. I never have been a young man. I am also not a child from a poor home, I’ve never lived in a trailer park, neither have I lived in a gated community of mini-mansions. So how do I write authentically from the point of view of a young man? How do I write authentically from the point of view of a poor girl who lives in a trailer park? A boy who lives in a mini-mansion?

My personal perspective is far wider than my childhood, my skin color, or my sexuality. Every one of my characters is a part of me. Not my shell, but my emotional experience. Emotion knows no race, gender, or tax bracket. When a human being is sad, they are sad, and sadness is not limited to any one type of person. The same goes for love, happiness, anger, jealousy, and list-all-other-emotions-here. Emotions are universal.

I think we live in an allocated world. We like to have sections and subsections and keep everyone in tidy little boxes. I suppose I would fit in the white, raised middle-class, straight box. What is sad about these boxes is that once we put a human inside of one, we take away the possibility of them having experiences outside of the box we assigned to them. This is silly. And dangerous. In life, it leads to being a single-minded, judgmental meathead. In writing, it leads to stereotypical characters. Inventing authentic characters is about a lot more than what we can see from the outside. What’s important, like in life, is the character’s interior. And every one of my characters connects directly to my interior and my emotional experiences, of which I have had many.

My characters are me. I couldn’t write them if they weren’t. None of my characters are autobiographical, but every one of them is human and so am I. In the end, we all have too much in common to go on separating ourselves. We eat and we poop. We are born and we die. We struggle through. While diversity is a celebration of every type of human, I am most interested in that humanness that connects us.

A.S. King is the author of the forthcoming Reality Boy and the highly acclaimed Ask the Passengers, which received six starred reviews, appeared on ten end-of-year “best” lists, and was a Lambda Literary Award Finalist and a Los Angeles Times Book Prize winner. Her previous book, Everybody Sees the Ants, also received six starred reviews, was an Andre Norton Award finalist, and was a 2012 YALSA Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults book. She is also the author of the Edgar Award–nominated, Michael L. Printz Honor Book Please Ignore Vera Dietz and The Dust of 100 Dogs, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults. When asked about her writing, King says, “Some people don’t know if my characters are crazy or if they are experiencing something magical. I think that’s an accurate description of how I feel every day.” She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and children, and her website is


  1. Yay! That's our Amy. Well said. Boxes are so stifling.

  2. In a perfect world, this would all be true, but not all groups of authors enjoy the same latitude. I have some hope that things are changing. Bill Cheng's new novel is a case in point:

    I wonder about the editorial response if a non-White author wrote a book with only White middle class characters. Would it be acceptable if the author was raised in a mostly White environment? If they were multiracial? Things are indeed complicated. Thanks for this post; you've given me a lot to think about.

  3. Thank you for the love, everyone. I appreciate it. Ebony, your comment is exactly why I wrote this post. I am very aware of my privilege, and yet, I am also boxed by it. I have received complaints about writing a book about a girl questioning her sexuality from complete strangers who label me "straight" because they read my website bio that says I'm married. So there I am, in the married box, assumed to have no experiences other than straight and married, which is far from accurate. I grew up middle class, but if one assumes I do not know hunger or poverty or pain, they are wrong. I am white, but I have experienced racism and I have physical scars on my body from a memorable racist beating. And yet, in that "white" box, it is assumed no harm can come to me in this way.

    Beyond personal experiences, as you suggest, there are environmental experiences. If I chose to set my next story in a school that has a 98% African American population and write from the POV of a white girl who also attends, would that be more acceptable than my writing the book from the perspective of an African American girl in that same school? Judging from the questions and reactions I've received from simply writing across gender, I think I know the answer and it disturbs me, which is why I wrote this piece the way I did. But you're right. I may have the latitude (and/or permission) to do this when many do not.

    I wish for a day where the world is blind to these boxes. It's like wishing for world peace. So, I do what I can, and hope that readers of all types can connect with my books through universal emotion.

    Thank you, CBC Diversity blog, for having me!

  4. This is freaking brilliant. Thank you!