Sunday, December 6, 2009

Writing from a Rich Point of View

My mom is visiting us this week/weekend, which means several things:

1. The house is cleaner than usual (yesterday she went after the kitchen cupboards and counters with sponge and cleaner).

2. The cats are a bit mellower than usual because they have another warm and affectionate body to snuggle up with, cutting through some of the sibling rivalry for Dave's and my affections.

3. We watch at least one MGM musical (this time it was The Pirate with Gene Kelly and Judy Garland).

4. We play tourist a bit.

For number four, we were going to do a drive up to Fort Bragg yesterday, but since I've had a nasty head cold (the kind where you can't really do anything but blow your nose, drink hot toddies, watch TV or sleep) and only just started feeling better Friday evening, we decided to do something closer to home. We went to lunch at a little cafe in the Richmond district, then parked the car near the Legion of Honor and went strolling through the affluent neighborhood of Seacliff.

Seacliff used to be Sharon Stone's neighborhood, and Robin Williams is a current resident, just to give you an idea of what type of affluence I'm talking about here. You can tell which house is Robin Williams because of the topiary brontosaurus sticking up above the stone wall surrounding the property. The head of the brontosaurus is still just a wire frame, waiting for the topiary to catch up. On Halloween night the line of trick'or'treaters stretches out down the street.

I've driven through Seacliff many times - it's my back route to the Golden Gate Bridge, a much prettier route than 19th Avenue. But I've never actually walked through it, so my house ogling has been quick and surreptitious from the driver's seat of my car. Walking through it allowed us to really take our time and study the architecture and landscaping on some pretty amazing residences. Relatively cozy 'cottages' nestled in between palatial mansions. Marble, painted brick, wood, turrets, arched doors, courtyards, gardens, ocean views (there's a reason it's called 'Seacliff), you name it. Pretty much anything money can buy, including a few butt ugly modern homes that looked more like hospitals than homes.

We walked down one street and stopped to ogle an amazing estate at the edge of the cliff, a huge turret dominating our view from the top of the gated driveway. A towncar was parked out front and the driver lounged against the car. "It's for sale," he said, nodding towards the mansion.

"Oh yeah?"

"Yup. Twenty five million." He grinned at us as Mom, Dave and I started laughing.

"Yeah, we'll take two," said Dave.

We walked on, unable to even imagine earning that much money in one life time, let alone paying that much for a house, no matter how beautiful. "It'll fall into the ocean one of these days anyway," I said by way of group consolation. And that is probably true, considering the rate of erosion on the California coastline.

As we continued our walk, I thought about how impossible it is for me to get into the mindset of someone that rich and wondered if I'd be able to write from the point of view of a character used to being able to buy anything they wanted on a whim. I could write from the point of view of what it would feel like to suddenly come into money because I have a good imagination. I've written from the POV of characters who interact with people with lots of money because I've met a few of 'em. But I don't know if I could do a believable first person POV of someone like, say, Paris Hilton. Or Robin Williams, for that matter. Although the topiary dinosaur would be a nice starting point.

What about you? How much experience versus imagination do you think is necessary when creating believable characters and writing from their point of view as opposed to having them as supporting players in your stories?


L. Diane Wolfe said...

I've several main characters who started off 'well-off' and eventually become rich through NFL contracts. Not to the tune of a $25 million dollar mansion of course! But I've enough friends who are wealthy to the point they can buy whatever they want (and yet are still grounded) that it wasn't difficult to imagine a life like that.

Michele Emrath said...

I struggle with this on a different scale. In more of a belief-system sense. I view the world one way, but my characters don't necessarily agree. I enjoy that, of course! I learn a lot from them. But I struggle writing from their POV sometimes.
I'll admit I come from a privileged background, so for me the view of those who don't (most of my characters) is a real eye-opener for me. A growing experience.

Thanks for the intersting post. This is something I have often struggled with.


Dana Fredsti said...

I had friends in grade school who had a lot of money, but not to the tune of $25 mil mansions either. It's nice to hear about and meet people with lots of money who ARE still grounded!

Dana Fredsti said...

Michelle, that's another interesting thought - writing a character with a totally different belief system, especially if it's one's protagonist. I've gotten braver about stretching myself as a writer (and creating sympathetic characters further afield from my own ways of thinking), but it took a while to come out of my comfort zone...

Hagelrat said...

oooh interesting post. thanks.

Morgan Mandel said...

I'm haing a hard time trying to figure out how I can get enough money to retire when I turn 62. It's very hard to imagine having enough money to do whatever I want with it, and what that would be.

Morgan Mandel

~Sia McKye~ said...

I have friends and relatives that have come from a privileged background. My grandfather would scoff at the idea of spending 25 million on a house and yes, he lives in California.

I can write from that POV because most I've known are just ordinary people that have money. They drive normal cars, they dress better, have nicer vacations--but to look at them, you wouldn't know they had money. Attitude. Old money versus new. But writing from a Paris Hilton first person POV MIGHT be harder, lol! I have a good imagination, but still... Of course, First Person POV isn't my thing.

Glad you enjoyed your walk and visit, Dana.

Dana Fredsti said...

Heh. Morgan, me too!

Hi, Sia! Thanks so much for stopping by! And yeah, I think attitude really is the difference here... people who are grounded versus people who truly don't live in reality and have no concept that there are people who can't live the way they do. I love my boss dearly, but he really didn't understand why one of his colleagues couldn't drop $500 on a last minute plane ticket...