Get Some Perspective (or: Birdy, Bon Iver, Lorde, and Springsteen Teaching POV)
Perspective is everything. Perspective matters. As Plato said, perception is reality. We talk a lot about perspective and point of view in writing (see below for related external links on POV etc) and rightfully so, especially in young adult literature, because young adult literature is about that perspective, that point of view, that experience.
Let’s step outside literature this fine-oh-em-gee-it’s-finally-sunny-don’t-look-at-Thursday’s-forecast morning.
Bon Iver released his single Skinny Love on the album For Emma, Forever Ago. Here’s the original (sorry, not embedding because ugh, page loading).
Then, Birdy, a then fifteen or sixteen year old singer/songwriter from Britain, covered it on the piano and it became a YouTube sensation. I was never quite sure why she didn’t make it big off that alone, because two years later, it’s finally on the radio (I think Lorde made record companies realize that introverted singer/songwriter teen girls with amazing hair had serious potential for mad bucks).
TOTALLY DIFFERENT SONGS, AMIRITE? Except they’re the same song, right, because they’re the same lyrics?
No, they’re not. Because it’s a matter of perspective.
Bon Iver’s cover of Skinny Love feels like an adult perspective on the lyrics. You feel like it’s a song from one lover to another in what sounds like a terribly dysfunctional albeit loving relationship, like the kind that goes on too long but you can’t imagine your life without that person. I don’t know what you’re talking about I’ve never experienced this in my life shut up go away. When Bon Iver sings, it’s a frustrated song with notes of hope, melancholy, and pessimism all twisted together.
Birdy’s cover of Skinny Love feels, to me, like the teenage perspective on the lyrics. It doesn’t feel like one person to another person. It feels like a teenage girl speaking to the entire world. It took a song that was frustrated and made it desperate. It goes beyond frustration. It’s the song of a girl who wants everything from the world but simultaneously expects nothing. It’s jaded.
Same lyrics. Exactly the same words. Two different instruments. Two different voices. But more important, two different perspectives. Two different points of view.
Sometimes, a song—or words of any kind—are only meant to be from a certain point of view. A certain perspective. They just don’t work otherwise. See also: Lorde’s Royals (original here).
I love that song. I also love Bruce Springsteen (no, really, I changed the whole timeline of Magicballoonbook so I could include Springsteen’s East Berlin concert.)
RIGHT. So let’s go ahead and forget that ever happened. Sure, technically, on a very technical level, he covered the song and performed it well.
But there’s just no way I can honestly listen to him sing, “My friends and I have cracked the code. We count our dollars on the train to party. And everyone who knows us knows that we’re fine with this. We didn’t come from money.”
I don’t believe him. This song isn’t his story to tell. Not all words are universal. Not all words become different just because of a shift in perspective. Some words lose their meaning. Some stories aren’t as powerful. Instead of darkly subversive song about teen rebellion and life, it becomes a farce. This is why knowing your protagonist matters. Some stories are YA. Some are adult. Some can be both depending on who is telling the story.
Perspective and point of view matters. The same experience can be an entirely different story because of the point of view. In most cases, it should be an entirely different story. Just make sure it doesn’t fall flat and feel like a farce because of the wrong perspective.
Elsewhere on the Internet:
Chuck Wendig on What You Should Know About YA (a fab read, with several points about experience, perspective, and POV)
And here, Pat Wrede's series on Viewpoint is great (her whole blog has been recommended to me. I'm just getting started going through it!)
I take suggestions, including blogs you wrote! Have a handy link about YA POV/perspective? Leave it in the comments! Thanks!