On October 25th, I was invited to speak to the students of Sackets Harbor Central School about my third book, War of the Downer King, which was released in July of this year. I was also asked if I could speak about perspective and understanding others. This did get me thinking about the idea of perspective and how it relates to my book.
The following is an adaptation of the speech I gave on perspective and the case for it in the Scar of the Downers Series.)
First, here is some background.
The Scar of the Downers series centers on a group of slaves that are in desperate fight for their freedom. The books follow several people. One is Crik, a Downer, a slave, and the other is Durgan Gryndek, Captain of the City’s Watch, a non-slave, a freeman. These are two people with vastly different perspectives, which is an idea every author must embrace. To write from a different perspective, you must see it first.
This is the scenario.
Crik, one of my protagonists, along with several other Downers, attempt to escape from the dark city of Ungstah. This is the plot for the first book. The result of this is that the city descends into chaos, and Durgan Gryndek is one of the characters that reaps these consequences. He loses his family, his job, and his freedom.
Why did this occur? Well, in Durgan’s mind, it’s because of what Crik and the Downers did – they tried to escape with no thought of the repercussions. They openly defied a king in an effort to leave their life of slavery to pursue a life of freedom. This in turn created devastation in their wake.
Because of this, Durgan is reluctant to join the cause of the Downers. He holds them responsible for the situation in which he finds himself. You see – there are two differing perspectives at odds within this moment. You have the perspective of the slave and that of the freeman. In this case, the freeman, Durgan, cannot fathom the perspective of the Downer. He does not understand, nor does he care about, the situation of the Downer.
In the book, Rise of the Branded, Durgan is confronted by another character about his lack of understanding regarding the Downers’ plight.
“What is it you want from me?” he grumbled.
“I want you to help me,” she said.
“Freeing those people they have caged like animals. Or has Ungstah hardened your heart that much?”
“What do they have to do with me?” snarled Durgan. He spun on her. “Frankly, I’m here because of them. If they never escaped, I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in. My son would still be alive. My wife wouldn’t be alone in the Waste. I’d still be one of the Watch. This is their fault! Now I have to deal with it.”
Aniel’s cloak fluttered and a gust of wind struck Durgan against the wall. “It’s because of men like you they are in the position they are in. You turn your head and ignore their plight. For years they had to deal with your cowardice. Now it is your turn to deal with their bravery.”
Perspective allows you to see things in different ways, and as an author it is imperative to be able to put yourself in other people’s shoes. You must be able to relate to the characters that you create, but more than that, we must be able to relate to the people we meet.
You see, in the book, it wasn’t until Durgan was brought face-to-face with the life of a Downer, with the reality of their situation, that he began to change. Now that he was branded a Downer, he saw the world through a different set of eyes. It was then, and only then, that their cause became his cause.
Changing your perspective changes the way you see the world.
In Scar of the Downers, Crik gets beaten, loses his home, loses his best friend, Jak, and is always searching for food and fighting for survival. For most of his life he has viewed his life as a series of hardships, filled of encounters with people who cared little about him. But as he moves through the Rise of the Branded and War of the Downer King, he discovers that events in his life that appeared dark, hopeless, and meaningless, were actually necessary in his struggle for freedom. The moment that began this transformation was his encounter with Aniel in the first book, Scar of the Downers.
After discovering that Aniel, his newfound friend, had been watching him and Jak for ten years, doubt creeps in. He asks Aniel.
If you had watched us for ten years, why didn’t you free us then? You could’ve saved us a lot of pain.”
"Even if I freed you back then, you still had the mind of a slave. You still thought you belonged to Kilvar. What you don’t understand is that you have to want freedom. I can offer it to you. I can even hand it to you. But freedom is nothing if you don’t take it with your bare hands.
Crik viewed his hardships one way, but as we see him proceed along his journey, his perspective begins to change. What he thought was dark, brought him light, what he thought meaningless, gave him purpose, and what he thought was hopeless, was the very thing that made hope possible.
Because his perspective had changed. You see, perspective is not only related to how we view others, but it is also related to how we view ourselves, and our circumstances.
I will give you an example of a personal nature. I worked at a full-time job temporarily, hoping I would be hired full-time. When the time came, I was passed over and the job went to someone else. At the time, I was disappointed. I felt rejected, upset, even cheated. But when my wife was diagnosed with cancer a few months later, it was only then did I understand how hard a new job would’ve been for my family at a time of crisis. That is perspective, and time has a way of changing it.
I will end this blog post with a quote from War of the Downer King. Aniel, one of the people who fought alongside the Downers, was explaining to Crik why she chose him to be the leader of the Downers. It was all because he was able to see the world through someone else’s eyes. He walked in a young boy’s shoes and rescued (Jak) him. This is what Aniel said.
“If ever you wonder why I have chosen you to lead the Downers, it is not because of your strength. You will always find someone stronger. It is not because of your wisdom. You will always find someone wiser. It is not because of your bravery, though you are very brave. It is because of your heart. You care for those around you. That is what kind of leader I needed… It is what I first saw many years ago when you first took in Jak. After everything you’ve been through, after all that Kilvar had done to you, you have never lost that part of you. In fact, it has only grown stronger.”
You see, it was perspective that made Durgan a hero, and it was perspective that made Crik a leader.
Scott Keen is the author of three young adult fantasy novels, Scar of the Downers, Rise of the Branded, and War of the Downer King.