The past couple of weeks have included a couple of short trips for work—one to Florida, and the other to Texas and Oklahoma. This category of travel, the kind that doesn’t involve my choice of destinations, activities, or companions, brings its own form of exhaustion for me. There’s also, of course, the hassle and heightened awareness of risk, from airport germs to security-theater to the thrill of hitting potholes in the sky. Then add the odd familiarity of unexceptional hotels, being driven around by strangers, and hours of just-to-fill-the-silence conversation. I had my fill of all the above over the past ten days.

Of course there’s good, too, like new scenery, local accents, finally meeting email-only colleagues in person, and learning something. The best part, though: the people watching. Airports are one of the very best places for central casting. And the Orlando and Dallas airports have extra degrees of colorful variation. I saw a man in DFW wearing denim overalls and a straw hat. Really. In March 2024. Where was he going, what led him to dress that way (lifestyle? costume? a dare?), and what did his companion think about it? (She was dressed in far less notable attire.) Business travelers, vacation-goers, college kids… you name it. They’re all there, passing through and crossing paths. 

The Star’s Perspective

Every time I witness the parade of life like that, I think about how little we know about each other—and how rarely we even bother to wonder. We’re all busy coming and going in our own lives, our minds full of our own affairs, and in airports that’s particularly evident. We are each the star of our episode, or at least part of ensemble casts. Most of the time, we don’t think about the extras—and yet they are all starring in their own episodes at the same time they are extras in ours. We’re just on the same set.

Which yields the humbling reminder that all of us are sometimes the star, and sometimes the bit player. And sometimes, we’re just part of the background and no one thinks about us at all.

In my work in progress, I am finding that one of the “extras” may need to be a main character. This was on my mind during the interminable hours in Terminal C. (Yes, C, in all three airports.) I was thinking about a scene that I have been wrestling with for a few sessions, one that just isn’t clicking. I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with it to bring it to life.

In the airport, it occurred to me that changing the perspective of the scene would bring it to life. I planned and wrote it from the perspective of the viewpoint character most affected by the consequences of this scene. For him, it’s an important link, because what he witnesses in this scene is the set-up for something important to come. I’ve been frustrated that the scene feels flat.

Not Just a Layover

The airport gave me an insight through metaphor. (You know I can’t help it!) As written, the scene is like a layover. It’s an important stop on that character’s journey, a connection between departure and destination. Most of the time, when we’re in a layover airport, it’s a chance to stretch our legs, get some refreshment, check our messages—all useful, but not the reason we’re traveling. We may observe some of the people around us, but their lives don’t touch ours. Layover airports are “between” places, and it hardly matters where we are. (Except if you’re routed through a sprawling airport and your connecting flight is at the opposite end. Then it matters.) 

Far more interesting is the destination airport. That’s where our adventure begins, or where we’re welcomed home, and so that place holds emotional interest. The destination airport is where we resume the story we’re invested in.

The scene I drafted, like an airport, means different things to difference characters depending on their journey. For one character, it’s just something he witnesses as he’s going about his business. It’s a layover, and he’s people-watching. For another character, the “layover” is actually a destination, an integral part of his personal story. If I rework the scene so the reader experiences it through his eyes, it will be more engaging. If I do, though, I’ll be promoting him. Instead of being a bit player in the first character’s story, he’ll become the star of the scene. 

The Main Perspective

Perspective is the difference between being an extra and being the star of the show. And a scene can be a layover or a destination. The combination most likely to be emotionally satisfying is the star’s perspective at the destination.

So, fresh from my airport insights, I’ve decided it’ll be worth the rework. The scene will matter more to readers if they see it through the perspective of the principal actor. The only trouble is that if he’s someone whose perspective matters, I want to work that perspective into the story overall, not just this episode. I need to revisit some of my plans to make sure the plot can support another story-building character. Fortunately, I like the guy—but it means I have to figure out his travel plans.