Friday, January 13, 2017


A popular post from July 2009

Several years ago, I took a trip to New York with my sisters and mother. That's a story in and of itself (summary: fun, fun, good food, fun, fun, Broadway show, fun, fun!).

But there was one element of the trip that jumped out at me because of our personalities. And, because I'm a weird writer person, it's stayed with me all these years.

To understand, first, here's a bit of background on each of us:

Mom, since the time she was little, has been fascinated with all things Jewish. She's not a Jew, but I'm betting she knows more about Jewish history, humor, and even Jewish law than your average Jew does. She literally has bookshelves filled with this stuff. She was once offered a free subscription to some Jewish women's magazine because they thought she was Jewish.

My older sister is a foodie and former caterer. She loves hole-in-the-wall bakeries and can come up with recipes that would rival anything you'd find in one. Recently at such a bakery, she pointed to some cupcakes, rolled her eyes, and said, "I could do much better than that." (And she totally could.)

I'm . . . well, you know me. I'm the writer.

My little sister is very much into fashion. Aside from the time I showed up at her house early in the morning, there's not a time I've seen her in her adult life where she hasn't been properly coiffed and accessorized to the hilt.

Okay, so back to New York.

Driving through Manhattan, I flipped out. "Look! It's Random House! RANDOM HOUSE!!!!"

It was a HUGE building with massive lettering, but none of them noticed it, instead saying, "What? Where?" (And I think my little sister might have even said, "What's Random House?")

I saw a ton of other publisher names on buildings, and each time I squealed, imagining what was happening in the upper floors of each one.

As we walked through the streets of Manhattan later on, Mom gasped, stopped, and pointed. We all halted and backed up to see what amazing sight we'd missed. She pointed out an itty bitty Jewish store (seriously, like six feet wide) with the prettiest menorahs she'd ever seen. The other three of us had walked past without even seeing it; the place was one of a thousand windows we'd passed that day.

Not ten minutes later, my older sister was drooling and gaping at another window, and the rest of us had to backtrack to see the darling little bakery she found that displayed cakes that were practically works of art.

Throughout the entire trip, my younger sister, I swear, was drawn to every fashion spot there was as if they had a homing device on them.

It was as if each of us saw Manhattan through an entirely different lens. I wonder what things I missed because my lens was so different than Mom's or my sisters'. I was glad I had them all with me; I was able to have things pointed out that I would have missed because my lens didn't catch them. All four of us walked the same streets, went to the same sites, saw the same Broadway play. Yet we all actually saw different things.

As you write, think about your characters in the same way. What lens do each of your characters see their world through?

What things stand out to them in their regular world?

If they go someplace new and different, what will stand out to them there? What will they not notice so much because of who they are?

What interests, strengths, and weaknesses help to shape their world into the one they view as "real"?

The "real" New York probably doesn't exist; it's a place millions of people experience in millions of ways, because everyone has their own lens.

Be sure to give each of your characters their own lens too.


Stephanie Black said...

Thanks, Annette. I'm going to keep "lenses" in mind while I plunge into the second draft of my book!

folksinmt said...

Wow. You always have such great perspectives. What I wouldn't give for a little slice of your brain (but you can keep the headaches!).

Annette Lyon said...

P.S. here--The publishing I first saw might have been Simon & Schuster. I don't remember for sure. :) I was just stoked.

MommyJ said...

Excellent point and good food for thought.

L.T. Elliot said...

This is one of the most brilliant ideas I've heard for character differentiation. Great post, Annette! (Plus, I would have totally been geeking out about Random House too!)

Teri said...

So true. Another way to look at it would be how one's character's influence the lenses we look through in our lives. Seeing through their perspective would most definitely shape our own view of the world.

I would have flipped out about the publishing houses as well!!!

Amber Lynae said...

I love this post. What a unique way of stating it, and very observant. Thank you. It is helpful to stop and see things through my character's eyes.

Kimberly said...

What a great insight, Annette!

Anna Maria Junus said...

What a great post and I never thought about it that way, but you're right.

And I would have been excited with you over the publishing houses.

Eowyn said...

That, my dear, was an awesome post!

susana said...

Such a nice post thanks for sharing...
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