Pep & Prompt #7: Switch the POV

Howsabout a little light psychology to fuel your writing brain today?

Let’s talk POV (point of view).

Perspective makes a BIG difference to a story.

How would we feel about Adam (the ‘Monster’) if Frankenstein had only offered us Victor’s whiny little point of view?

Can you imagine Star Wars from Vader’s perspective? Would we end up rooting for Darth as an ostracised, misunderstood underdog, constantly trying to fend off terrorist attacks to keep his people safe?

Or what if you re-wrote Hamlet and let Ophelia or Gertrude soliloquise their socks off?

Every story has the potential to be flipped on its arse and show us a whole new perspective.

Switching the POV = magic beans.

Just have a gander at this brilliant infographic on COGNITIVE BIAS – sneaky little changes in perspective or presupposition or preconception that make us believe things to be a certain way simply because they suit our world view:

An infographic listing '20 cognitive biases that screw up your decisions'. 

1. Anchoring bias. People are over-reliant on the first piece of information they hear. In a salary negotiation, whoever makes the first offer establishes a range of reasonable possibilities in each person's mind. 

2. Availability heuristic. People overestimate the importance of information that is available to them. A person might argue that smoking is not unhealthy because they know someone who lived to 100 and smoked three packs a day. 

3. Bandwagon effect. The probability of one person adopting a belief increases based on the number of people who hold that belief. This is a powerful form of groupthink and is the reason why meetings are often unproductive. 

4. Blind-spot bias. Failing to recognise your own cognitive biases in itself. People notice cognitive and motivational biases much more in others than in themselves. 

5. Choice-supportive bias. When you choose something you tend to feel positive about it, even if that choice has flaws. Like how you think your dog is awesome - even if it bites people every once in a while. 

6. Clustering illusion. This is the tendency to see patterns in random events. It is key to various gambling fallacies, like the idea that red is more or less likely to turn up on a roulette table after a string of reds. 

7. Confirmation bias. We tend to listen only to information that confirms our preconceptions - one of the many reasons it's so hard to have an intelligent conversation about climate change. 

8. Conversation bias. Where people favour prior evidence over new evidence or information that has emerged. People were slow to accept that the Earth was round because they maintained their earlier understanding that the planet was flat. 

9. Information bias. The tendency to seek information when it does not affect action. More information is not always better. With less information, people can often make more accurate predictions. 

10. Ostrich effect. The decision to ignore dangerous or negative information by 'burying' one's head in the sand, like an ostrich. Research suggests that investors check the value of their holdings significantly less often during bad markets. 

11. Outcome bias. Judging a decision based on the outcome - rather than how exactly the decision was made in the moment. Just because you won a lot in Vegas doesn't mean gambling your money was a smart decision. 

12. Overconfidence. Some of us are too confident about our abilities, and this causes us to take greater risks in our daily lives. Experts are more prone to this bias than laypeople, since they are more convinced that they are right. 

13. Placebo effect. When simply believing that something will have a certain effect on you causes it to have that effect. In medicine, people given fake pills often experience the same physiological effects as people given the real thing. 

14. Pre-innovation bias. When a proponent of an innovation tends to overvalue its usefulness and undervalue its limitations. Sound familiar, Silicon Valley? 

15. Recency. The tendency to weigh the latest information more heavily than older data. Investors often think the market will always look the way it looks today and make unwise decisions. 

16. Salience. Our tendency to focus on the most easily recognisable features of a person or concept. When you think about dying, you might worry about being mauled by a lion, as opposed to what is statistically more likely, like dying in a car accident. 

17. Selective perception. Allowing our expectations to influence how we perceive the world. An experiment involving a football game between students from two universities showed that one team saw the opposing team commit more infractions. 

18. Stereotyping. Expecting a group or person to have certain qualities without having real information about the person. It allows us to quickly identify strangers as friends or enemies, but people tend to overuse and abuse it. 

19. Survivorship bias. An error that comes from focusing only on surviving examples, causing us to misjudge a situation. For instance, we might think that being an entrepreneur is easy because we haven't heard of all of those who failed. 

20. Zero-risk bias. Sociologists have found that we love certainty - even if it's counterproductive. Eliminating risk entirely means there is no chance of harm being caused.

Good innit? Makes you wonder what cognitive biases your fictional characters might be susceptible to in order to make them behave the way they do…

<writer brain cogs turning>

RIGHT! Time to write…

Quick, quick, while you’re in the mood, take a look at the picture prompts below, and have a go at telling the same story from 3 different perspectives…

This could be a literal switch in perspective (from ‘I’ to ‘you’ to ‘he/she/they’) or it could be a character switcheroo so we’re witnessing the same event from three different people’s POV. Or why not switch the tense? A story told in present tense is hugely different from one told in third – or go nuts and have a go at future perfect continuous, just because you can. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

tl;dr: Grab a prompt. Tell the story 3 different ways. Boom.

A photo of a protestor pushing back against police in riot gear while a water cannon sprays them all.
Photo credit: Aaron Favila/AP
Black and white photo of a family at a table saying Grace before diner. A mother and child sit opposite each other with heads bowed. A father stands between them at a window, eyes closed. A picture of sunflowers is on the wall to one side, above a floral sofa.
Photo credit: Jon Kral
Photo of a mother with two daughters at an art gallery, dressed in 1940s clothing. The mother and eldest daughter stand in front of a gigantic painting with their arms crossed, looking stern. The youngest daughter stand apart in the centre of the room looking directly at the camera.
Photo credit: Vivian Maier

Write.

Switch the POV.

Write.

Switch.

Write.

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