As an expat, no matter how long you’ve lived in another country, you’re always to some extent on the outside looking in, trying to see the world through someone else’s eyes, the filters of their experience.
My day job in international business also necessitates setting ‘myself’ aside, working with people – mostly in Asia – whose life experiences are nothing like mine and were shaped a world away. Not only do they have different traditions, a different first language and different food, but these virtual colleagues, some of whom I’m fortunate to call friends, have different expectations about work and working relationships.
Although on the surface such experiences have nothing to do with my writing, I’ve come to realize they’ve nevertheless been instrumental in how I’ve developed my craft.
Being a writer means putting yourself in your character’s shoes, experiencing what they experience from their point of view, setting your own feelings and emotions aside to understand and tell their story.
It means writing about people who aren’t me, with experiences which aren’t mine, who make choices I haven’t made.
So when my characters surprise me (as they often do) it means setting aside my own assumptions and having faith the story will evolve as it should.
Do I plot out my books before writing them? Yes, at least in a loose way. I know the beginning, the end and some of the turning points between.
But as in my day job and expat life, the writing journey is rich in unexpected happenings. Seeing the world through a character’s eyes, stepping fully outside myself is when my best writing happens.
What have you learned from setting aside your own point of view to experience someone else’s?