Sunday, July 19, 2015

Perception: A Formidable Writing Weapon by Stuart R. West

Perception’s a funny thing. It fascinates me when people are confronted with the same visual, audio or mental stimuli and interpret it differently.

Recently, I had dinner with my brother and his daughters. We had a heated discussion about the approximate size of Mickey Mouse. Yes, we both need to get out more.

He insisted Mickey Mouse is the size of a real mouse. Defiantly, I stood my ground and patiently explained that Mickey Mouse is about five feet tall.

Let's weigh the evidence. Mickey has a dog named Pluto. Mickey's larger than Pluto, keeps him on a leash and appears to be a relatively good dog-owner. At least he doesn't dress Pluto in Halloween costumes. Plus, I believe I've seen Mickey drive a car in cartoons.

My brother's defense? He said Mickey Mouse on Ice is not indicative of the character’s size. He stared at me disbelievingly and said, "Those guys on skates aren't real. You KNOW that, don't you?" He said this in the solemn way one tells a child Santa’s not real, a dark and sad secret unveiled.

(I didn’t even bring up the paradox of Goofy. He's a dog as well. I think. Yet, he walks upright, speaks (unlike Pluto) and appears to be a well-adjusted--yet, slightly stupid--individual.)

This argument has thrown everything I thought I knew into a tizzy. I lay awake at night, pondering the size of Mickey Mouse. Surely, a sentient mouse who walks a dog is human size. the back of my mind, I find myself questioning it. 

Perception. A peculiar concept, particularly on how it forms people’s personalities. Was my brother wrong? Depends on which side of the argument you land on, I suppose. But how can anyone’s perception be declared definitively wrong when, to them, they’re right? You can't change people's perceptions, particularly when they involve anything regarding religion, politics or Game of Thrones, I've discovered.

One of the last standing monuments in Picher, Oklahoma, the basis for my book, Ghosts of Gannaway.

As a writer, I like using perception to form characters. In my new suspense thriller, Ghosts of Gannaway, the mining magnate villain, Kyle Gannaway, perceives himself as a hero of sorts, the savior of the little town he founded. Which is true in a way. But Kyle justifies his actions which include murder, perceives it as a means to an end, for the greater good of everyone. Is he wrong? Well, yes. But not in his mind. Perception can be a writer’s secret weapon, something to bring what might be a clichéd character to vivid life.

Dennis Lipstein is the hero in the 1969 portion of the novel (yep, there’re two different timelines), an environmental scientist tasked with studying the now ravaged wastelands of Gannaway, Kansas. Even though Dennis is confronted with empirical evidence of ghosts and a haunting, he refuses to believe, chalking it all up to science. A matter of perception, a writer’s source of conflict. 

In 1935, Tommy Donnelly, hero extraordinaire, has his perception muddied by rose-colored glasses. He’ll do anything to help his men in the mines, naively refusing to believe that anyone could possibly be evil. Noble to a fault, it’s a hard lesson Tommy learns. Because of his misperception.

Finally, there’s Claire, Tommy’s wife, a truly ferocious force of nature who’ll do anything to protect her family. She makes some bad decisions to attain her goal. Which have consequences. Is she wrong in her perception that nothing matters beyond her family? Absolutely not, not to her.

Comedies (particularly romantic ones) are built upon a series of misperceptions. Suspense thrillers rely on misperception as well, sometimes to have humanly flawed characters make very bad (and dangerous) mistakes. Perception’s a great way to unbind characters trapped with one foot into cliché-land, a writer’s secret weapon.

But I’m still pondering the size of Mickey Mouse.

Ghosts of Gannaway can be purchased now for the limited sales price of .99!

Brand spanking new and creeptacular trailer:

 Stuart R. West's BWL author page.

Stuart R. West's Blog: Twisted Tales From Tornado Alley