Each of us views the world through a different set of eyes. And each of us has been deeply affected by the past events of our lives; they create who we are and the distinct perspectives we have today. We filter the world through the events of our past and they eventually shape our futures.
The best way to practice compassion is by creating characters with a different life perspective than the one you have. This quote by Mary Lou Kownacki says it best: “There isn’t anyone you couldn’t love once you’ve heard their story.”
One of my favorite characters I’ve created, Iris, comes to mind. She appeared to me in daydreams. She had long dark hair and pale skin and was strikingly beautiful. I had, however, a sense of how she interacted with other characters; she was hostile, and I didn’t approve of her. She enjoyed watching other people fall apart, I was scared as a writer to embrace her, so I shut her up. Why should I write a character that awful?
I said that a life perspective is created by accumulated events. Iris was tenacious about having her story told; she persistently showed up in my thoughts and eventually I listened to the muses. It didn’t take long for me to discover that she had been kicked out by parents as a teenager for being trans and had to hustle the streets to survive.
A life perspective lens is like a theme. For Iris and her past traumas, it became: “We are all liars; successful people never get caught.” Fleshing her out made me realize that not only does a character’s life perspective work for him or her, but also the life perspective might have saved the character’s life.
I discovered more about her as the story unraveled and it became a joy to write her. The other characters disliked her but not me. By placing myself into her shoes, I developed a compassion for people in real life who may have similar life perspectives.
There are seven billion human life perspectives on this planet right now. The world would be a better place if we took the time to listen and accept the voices of those that we believe are not like us. Too many of us waste energy fighting to prove that we have the right view. Each character you write is an opportunity for you to help yourself and the world grow. Write the stories that broaden our perspective and show us what it truly means to be human.
And feel free to apply this to your real life as well. Is there someone in your life you strongly dislike? What past events might have shaped this person’s life perspective to make him or her this way? If you’re feeling even more inspired, have a conversation with this person. You may be surprised at what you discover.
As Mr. Rogers once said: “Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.”
Jeremy Frazier graduated from Carnegie Mellon with a MFA in Drama Writing. He is the recipient of the Max K. Lerner Playwriting Fellowship and the Shubert Playwriting Fellowship. He was also a finalist for the John Cauble Award at the Kennedy Center for his one-act play, We’ll Always Have Paris. Jeremy was recently named as a quarter-finalist for the PAGE International Screenwriting Awards competition for his feature screenplay, Of Flesh and Blood. As the founder of the Actor’s Writing Gym, he loves working with actors to help them create their dream roles and believes that actors make the best writers.