The young woman had lain, dying, on the cold and uncaring earth, life force spilling from her as the roaring cataract drains a deep lake. It was obvious even to a youth like Aquilea that the woman had but moments to live before her Essence left the cruelly shattered housing of her body to join the One. Acknowledging the inevitable, Aquilea had bowed her head in reverence, awaiting the Passing of the woman’s Essence and the Fire of Cleansing. It was both sorrow and joy --- privilege, too, of course --- to witness such a thing twice in the space of two days.
But then she had felt the character of the very air around them change in some penetrating, indefinable way. A deep thrumming sound had assaulted her ears, and startled, she had raised her head. The man’s hands were pressed over that hideous gash, anguish clearly written on both face and especially Essence --- the depth of his emotions creating a violent, coruscating pattern on it so different from the liquid calmness she had previously seen there. There was something else very strange about his Essence, too: a golden stream of sparkling dust motes dropping down from everywhere out of the sky, swirling around him and infusing his Essence, making it stronger and giving it a slightly darker, richer hue.
Then had come a searing golden flash, and Aquilea was momentarily blinded. When sight returned, she could blurrily see the woman’s Essence steady and settle in the body it had been on the verge of abandoning.
And the woman was whole once again.
Even as the man fell, and Aquilea’s awe at what she had just witnessed turned to horror at his sudden collapse, one thought continued to hammer relentlessly through her…
To perform such an astounding, utterly impossible deed --- exactly what manner of man was this?
-from Gryphon’s Heir by D.R. Ranshaw
Meet Aquilea. She’s young and not too wise in the ways of the world, and frankly, doesn’t have a lot of experience with people --- although she doesn’t allow that to get in the way of her tendency to form fairly strong opinions about characters she meets or things she experiences. In fact, one could probably say she possesses both a self-confidence bordering on smugness and a shortage of patience bordering on irascibility when folks around her don’t get what she regards as blindingly obvious. While she doesn’t have the capacity to conduct verbal conversations --- at least yet, although we’re unsure whether this will come eventually --- she’s extremely good at getting her thoughts across, particularly with a fellow named Rhiss. He happens to be the protagonist of Gryphon’s Heir and Aquilea’s companion/surrogate parent, but Aquilea just usually mentally refers to him as The Man. It’s an unusual relationship overall, but then again, she’s not your typical gal.
You see, Aquilea is a gryphon.
To be more exact in my world mythos, she’s a gryphon minor, about the size of an Irish wolfhound (gryphon majors are much larger --- and far more vocal). Aquilea performs a literary function I regard as both entertaining and informative: in what is essentially a first person narrative, she is the Alternate Perspective.
What I tend to call ‘Aquilea’s Interludes’ generally come at the end of chapters. As you can see from the excerpt above, she will often retell some of the events of a given chapter --- but the important thing as far as writing goes is that she does it from her unique perspective, which is often quite unlike ours. She has the keen senses one might expect from a very large animal/bird of prey, yes, but more than that, she seems to have senses beyond our five. So she can offer interpretations of what’s gone on that are, at times, strikingly different from what we experience.
This can be an extremely useful literary function, and it’s hardly new in either literature or film. Mr. Spock in the original Star Trek series, and Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation, both filled this function: the outsider who looks at many of the things humans take for granted, and gives new insight into things we would never give a second thought to because we’ve been exposed to them all our lives. For example, Data, an android constructed without emotions, frequently found the concept of humour both baffling and bizarre. It made no sense at all to him, and he just couldn’t wrap his head around it. Which was, when you think about it, absolutely logical, because much of what humans define as funny is, really, based on humiliation and/or cruelty. Why would someone find someone else’s stupidity or misfortune worthy of mirth? Very strange. But without a Data asking questions about it, we just take it for granted.
The Alternate Perspective is nearly always fascinating, at times poignant, and often amusing. Because it does not quite understand --- or tries to make sense of things radically different from its own perspective --- it causes us to ask questions of ourselves and allows us to see that just because we view things a particular way, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other equally valid viewpoints. And that’s good, because it can jolt us out of our own complacency about stuff.
By the way, I’d like to be able to claim the profound forethought that Aquilea was designed from the get-go to fill the Alternate Perspective role in my story… but alas, that’s not true. She was just a cool character I knew I wanted. And there weren’t a series of Aquilea’s Interludes at first. There was one, which I just wrote because it seemed really interesting to finish off a chapter with some observations uniquely from her. It was my wife who, reading the manuscript, confirmed what I guess my subconscious was trying to tell me: this added intriguing detail and I should write more of them.
So I did… thereby proving once again that, as Stephen King says, while we write the first draft with the door closed, if we’re smart, the door is firmly open for the second.