Writing: Using the 360-degree feedback approach in stories

The 360-degree feedback is a technique probably used in your company to give you a more complete picture of you as a person within that environment.

Principle

360-degrees feedback

The 360-degree feedback consists of the following parts:

  1. How you see yourself
  2. How your colleagues see you
  3. The collected parts of the puzzle (the “total” image, which is always incomplete)

Each of these views on you is slightly different. For instance, you can see yourself as:

“A hard worker, sometimes not entirely sure if I deliver the kind of quality I think I should. I think my colleagues like me in general.”

While collegue 1 describes you as:

“He works hard, but is also too fast sometimes. This leads to errors in his work that I have to correct. X is OK, but sometimes talks too much, keeping me from my work.”

Collegue 2 might see you as follows:

“I wish I was as quick as X. I like his level of knowledge, but sometimes he is simply wrong. It takes a lot of discussion in that case to convince him that he is indeed wrong. Usually we take WikiPedia or another source to get there. As a colleague he is very social and I like the distraction he sometimes creates with his stories. Most of the time they are funny as well.”

Collegue 3 migh see you like this:

“X is a very nice and funny person. He is always available if you have something that needs to be solved. And he solves it quickly.”

Views and filters: subjectivity

Each of these views is subjective. Each is a personal view on you: including the one on yourself.

In stories: the unreliable narrator

In stories there is something called the “unreliable narrator“. The unreliable narrator tells the story, but can not be trusted. Either because he/she is lying or because his/her view on the subject is colored by specific preconceived ideas.

From an absolute point of view, all narrators in a story are unreliable. Even the writer himself. Things will be left out of the story, brushed up and glorified, while other parts will be uglied down and vilified.

Point of views

Six different viewpoints

We can see six specific viewpoints:

  1. The character observing itself – Always subjectief and limited. Characters act and usually find out “who they are” and “why they did things” afterwards.
  2. The author observing the character – Can be different kind of views, from all-knowing to the neutral observer to the “commenting observer”.
  3. Other characters observing your character – From subjective, to completely warped / false, never absolute: “he knew everything, even his deepest thoughts and emotions”.
  4. Your character observing the subject – A story is more than characters. The subject can be anything, as long as it is observed, from other people to objects to situations. The viewpoint and view is always limited form where the person stands.
  5. Other characters observing the subject – Other characters might have different stand points, meanign that they will see a different view of the subhect and other details and elements, escaping the attention of the main character
  6. The writer observing the subject – The writer is like the camera that can move around. Where your characters are bound by the rules of your world, your camera and viewpoint can move around if you wish: revealing yet something else.

Using different viewpoints for the same thing

When you train yourself to use different viewpoints on the same thing, several things will happen:

  1. Your stories will become richer – Your stories will show multiple views on the same thing, making it multi-dimensional. Things are not what they seem and things can be interpreted in several ways. You can even retell the same story or same parts and make them completely different: shedding a different light on a situation as well.
  2. Your characters will become richer– For two reasons:
    1. Multiple viewpoints – You will show them from different viewpoints, showing different properties of that character, even at that same moment and even by the character itself. Where one storyline will show your character as a very serious person, another viewpoint might focus on the sense of humor he or she exposes in certain situations.
    2. More dynamics – When everyone sees everything the exact same way, there is no disagreement and no conflict. Characters with different viewpoints can, might and probably will disagree. Where you otherwise might feel the need to invent some external force to have thigns happening, now this might be driven by the characters themselves.
  3. Your characters will have more choice – Since they do not have to agree with each other, nor with you: the writer, they will make decisions based on some internal logic. That choice might be completely different per situation and even per mood of that character. A sentence like: “He had no other choice” becomes: “He had many choices. But [motivation] made him make this specific [choice]”.
  4. Hitting home – People do stuff usually for a reason. Even if that reason seems to be “no reason at all” or something “stupid”. While a single point of view only allows for a limited approach (the outside observer, the person himself) a second (the close friend) and even third (the dog, lover, enemy or whatever) can suddenly add that extra piece of the puzzle that makes that “click” in your brain where you go: “Oooooh… What the fuck! Now it suddenly makes complete sense!”

Using it regularly

Like with any tool, 360-degrees is a tool you can use regularly, but with care. 360-degrees is a game, like any story-telling-tool. You can make it boring, you can make it exiting.

  1. Boring – Boring is where your story is linear. And your point of views are linear. Like “this is my plot and therefor this is the point of view”. “And of course X did not like [fill in person / situation / object]”
  2. Playful – Playful is where you play with the readers expectations, and with what your characters might think. It is about: “Yeah and then Y does not like that– wait a minute! — What if he/she DOES like this?”. Where you as the writer jump into an alternative stream where your characters jump out of the ordinary and do or think something unexpected.
  3. Awesome – Awesome is where things from different point of views (360-degrees) come together and the reader is suddenly like: “What the fuck! What the fuck! What the fuck what the fuck what the fuck“. Because several obvious things suddenly come together and reveal something different and completely unexpected. Like a bomb exploding in your brain.

Several elements that 360-degrees make possible:

  1. Hiding stuff in plain sight – You see something happening from one point of view and think: “meh”. Then you see it from another and you go like: “???” then from a third point of view where you go: “!!!!”. The same events, the same outcome, but with a more complete picture. Movies like: “The usual suspects” and books like: “Fight club” work this way.
  2. Adding multiple dimensions to one person/event – As said before, 360-degrees make it possible to view the exact same thing from different characters, each adding a different dimension. From emotions to revelations to character development and character enrichment.
  3. A more complete image – It can – in general – help to create a more complete image of a situation.

What it did for me

I am currently editing two stories doing exactly that.

Several things happen:

  1. One character, two images – While in the one story – from the point of view of that character – shows X mostly a very serious person; the other story, from the point of view of her lover, shows X as a springy, light and loving character: always smiling, always fresh, seldom down or depressed.
  2. Same sequence of events, two completely different stories – While for one person the series of events is one thing, completely other things happen for the other character. The emotions are different. The central themes are different.
  3. Deeper story – And maybe even more beautiful: when you re-read the other sequence, that sequence itself has changed as well: enriched by the story from the other side and the hidden things that could only be shown from the viewpoint of that other person.
  4. Deeper feel for the characters – In the ideal situation, as a reader, you connect with the characters in the story. they can become like friends. When well done, it is like learning something new about your good friend where that one decision you never really understood suddenly hits home.
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