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You can tell a lot about a person by how they see a place.

When facing writer’s block, I love to stretch my imagination a bit by putting the same character in a paragraph and writing it twice, from opposite emotional vantage points. I don’t describe the person; I get to know them from the inside out by seeing things with them (twice) instead.

One easy way to accomplish this is to send a character back to his or her hometown, wherever that may be—big city, little city, a resort town, high desert, farming country, military town, an international destination, etc. Or it could be any place that’s significant in that person’s life—it doesn’t have to be a town, it could be a bowling alley or a shopping mall, etc. Pick a place, create a character or use the one that’s been stumping you, and have fun playing around with it.

Here are two rough examples for you:

  • A quick glance out the side window won him eye contact with a haggard woman waiting at the crosswalk. Not much older than him, she wore a baby slung low on her left hip. Three brats of varying heights trailed behind her like ducklings. All of them (the baby included) gave him the usual clench-jawed “you’re not from around here, boy” stare. He wryly acknowledged that it was that expression, along with a few tattered Asimov paperbacks he found at the flea market, that made him work his ass off in school in the first place. No scholarship would have meant “no way in hell out of town,” and he just hadn’t seen himself fitting in as a part of the local unwelcoming committee indefinitely.

 

  • He glanced out the window, making eye contact with a woman at the crosswalk. She was young and pretty with a round-faced baby riding on her left hip; wobble-headed admiration for her was written all over its face. Three more children followed behind the two of them, all singing, and dancing, and bubbling with energy. The family of five stared back, sharing the mutual curiosity for a moment. He smiled at them, realizing this was the place where he had found those first tattered Asimov paperbacks at the flea market. The ones that had initially inspired him to work his ass off in school, and spurred him on to win a scholarship that allowed him to pursue his dreams.

 

As you can see, it’s the same place and people—nothing but the character’s perception has changed. You can learn quite a bit about yourself this way. If you gravitate in one direction (negative or positive) with a voice or character more often, changing it up gives you a broader spectrum. It helps you realize there might be many shades of gray for you to choose from between the roses and sunshine and negativity.