They call it the Front Range, this east-facing stretch of the Rocky Mountains that runs north to south across Colorado. Along the Front Range, you’ll find most of Colorado’s well-known non-mountain towns: Denver, Boulder, Pueblo, Colorado Springs—all the stuff that lies along I-25. And when I moved to Colorado from California eighteen years ago, I had no idea why they called it the Front Range.
Growing up in Southern California, and looking at maps from that perspective, I felt like I had crossed over to the back side of the mountains when I moved to Fort Collins. Shouldn’t this be called the Back Range? It probably took me longer than it should have to figure out that it was an eastern-centric view of the world (or at least the U.S.) that led to this name. And I suppose it could even have a historical basis since settlers moving westward across the continent encountered this giant range first after the long flat of the Great Plains.
I couldn’t understand this name because I had a blind spot. My vision of this country was from the left. I didn’t have the perspective to see the back side of the mountains as the front. I wasn’t able to view the country from New York, as most of the world seems to do. (I feel a digression coming on here about how growing up as a Dodgers fan in the late ’70s taught me to hate the Yankees and New York by extension, but perhaps that’s best left for another time.)
This sort of blind spot could be a useful character trait in fiction—provided you can portray it believably. A bigger question, however, might be whether you have your own blind spots that affect how you portray your characters. Can your characters see viewpoints that you can’t see yourself? Can you write from a perspective that you don’t understand or maybe don’t agree with?
At the most basic level, you might need to write from the point of view of the opposite gender. Some writers can do this without any trouble, while others can’t pull it off. And what about writing from a contrary political or religious viewpoint? Or even just a character with an unfamiliar occupation? Research can take you only so far; to really present a vivid character, you have to be inside their perspective. You have to imagine that life, which you can’t do if your own blind spots prevent you.
In my own writing, traits or beliefs I don’t agree with usually show up as negative character traits—ways to present the bad guys, you might say. For instance, I can’t stand smoking and have little tolerance for smokers, so if one of my characters smokes, he’s probably an antagonist in some form. (I’m working with such a character in a story at the moment.)
It would probably be a great writing exercise to try to find your own blind spots and failures of perspective and create positive characters that nonetheless carry these traits. Maybe I’ll try this by having a character that believes Front Range is a beautiful and appropriate name for this Colorado stretch of the Rockies—because even though I understand it now, it still seems backwards to me.
Follow B. K. Winstead on Twitter at @bkwins