My husband and I spent four days in Manhattan, New York with family last week and we had some interesting adventures, one of which made me think about writing.
Our first day was the most tiring day because my husband and I had taken a red-eye flight which arrived at 6:30 in the morning in Newark, New Jersey (which was 3:30 AM our time). We then took a train into Manhattan, stopped at our relatives’ hotel and ate breakfast with them. They’d arrived there the previous day. After breakfast we walked along crowded sidewalks, shopped for several hours in Macy’s which is known as the largest department store in the world, and ate lunch in an Italian restaurant near Penn Station. After that, my husband and I returned to our hotel to check-in and rest, while our relatives did a bit more exploring. We agreed to meet later in Times Square.
About two hours later, our son called us and said they were nearing Times Square. We agreed to meet at the corner of 42nd Street and 7th Avenue in about ten minutes. My husband and I immediately left our hotel on foot and arrived at the designated meeting place at the right time.
What we hadn’t expected was the enormous crowds on all four corners of that intersection. Big mistake!
We stood there, looking around in all directions and trying to spot the five family members we were supposed to meet. We didn’t see them. The traffic lights kept changing as we waited. We debated whether or not to cross one of the streets. But which one, and going which direction?
Finally, I got out my cell phone and called my son. “Where are you?” I asked.
“We’re at the intersection of 42nd Street and 7th Avenue. Where are you?”
“The same intersection. We don’t see you. Where exactly are you?”
We went back and forth, each describing what we were seeing. The blinking lights on the fronts of super tall buildings, various stores, a big bank, flashy billboards, Madame Toussards, etc.
“Are you sure you’re at that intersection?” I asked. “I don’t see the things you mentioned.”
He said he didn’t see what I was describing, either.
I mentioned Chase Bank. He didn’t see it. He said they were standing in front of a subway sign.
I saw a subway sign near us, but it wasn’t the right one. I looked around again, and finally I saw another subway sign across the street, next door to the bank.
“Stay there,” I said. “I think I know where you are. We’ll be right over.”
We crossed the street on the left, and then crossed the other street, too. We walked past the Chase Bank that was directly on the corner. And there they were, standing in front of the subway sign. From where they were standing, they couldn’t see the name on the building next door. They didn’t know it was a bank.
The whole episode reminded me of writing–you take your point-of-view character in a scene and show everything from that character’s viewpoint, specifically showing only what he or she sees. In this case, I was the viewpoint character and saw the setting from a completely different angle than my son saw it. We were both correct when we were describing the intersection, but it didn’t look the same to both of us because of our positions on the sidewalk, the lighting, our height differences (he’s a foot taller than me), etc.
As writers, we have to keep all of that in mind when we are writing a scene from one character’s point-of-view. It’s a difficult thing for new writers to learn and understand. I hope this helps explain how writers have to think when they are creating a new story.