Sunday, September 25, 2011

We Can't Repel Bias of this Magnitude!

This week, I've been cooking up a short story inspired by the Five for Fighting song posted at the top of my home page. It takes place from the point of view two characters with two very different perspectives of both the world and their shared situation. Sometime around last month, I posted my thoughts on bias and stereotypes as they relate to writing characters. It's an important topic and it highly relates to my current project, so I've decided to cover a slightly different aspect of it.

"Oh no," you say. "Not the dreaded and much-maligned repost!"

It's not that bad, I promise. Bear with me, it'll be worth it, I swear.....wait, I can never remember if it's



Oh well, I guess it doesn't really matter. Anywho, once more unto the purpose of this post.

Today, I want to talk about perspective. Everyone, as in us humans, perceives the world in different ways. As I discussed before, people form personal constructs or stereotypes based on how they view the world. Because we all have different personal experiences or beliefs, personal constructs and simple perceptions therefore vary from person to person. And because fiction, at its heart, is simply a simulation of real or imagined life, we generally want our characters to reflect this. A classic example of this (stolen shamelessly from the guys at Writing Excuses) is to have a hypothetical full cup of water sitting on a hypothetical table in a hypothetical room. 3 people walk into said room and see the cup. Each person (if they were real) would have somewhat different thoughts regarding the cup of water. For example, a nomad from the desert would view the cup of water differently than someone hailing from a more fertile climate.

Now, because I love fun examples, I'm gonna try to demonstrate this further. The example I'm going to use is...

wait for it......

Oh, yes I did. And yes. It is a trap.

Herein lies a valuable lesson within a lesson for everyone: You can learn something for everyone and everything. I promise you that Admiral Ackbar, commander of the Rebel fleet and failed University of Mississippi mascot candidate, has something to teach us about writing perspective.

At the time Ackbar discovers the potentially-fatal Imperial ambush and emphatically delivers his famous lines, several different things might have been going through his fishy head. Let us consider some of the things we know about our dear Admiral:
  1. Admiral Ackbar is a member of the Calamari species (I can't believe Lucas named them that), who risked everything to support the fledgling Rebel Alliance. If the Alliance fails, his people will most likely suffer greatly and/or be wiped out by the Empire.
  2. Ackbar is an Admiral and leader of the Rebel Fleet participating in the Battle of Endor. By nature, the small Rebel Alliance must be a tight-knit group. He likely cares a great deal about those whom he commands.
  3. Lastly, the Admiral is in a dire situation. He has just discovered that his hopes, friends, entire species, and own life are likely about to go up in a fiery miasma of Death-Star-operational-ness. 
So, when he utters his famous lines, "It's a trap!" and "We can't repel fire of that magnitude!", it initially seems a bit absurd and sensationalist. However, when we viewed through the lens of his perspective, Ackbar's reaction is quite understandable and appropriate.

When we write characters, we want to get into their heads. What are they thinking and feeling at the moment? How does their past affect them? These questions and others must be considered when we make our characters, and once considered, their actions should match accordingly -- for characters are simulations and analogs for real humans, and they must be real to us for them to be real for our readers. If we fail, and write characters based on stereotypes and give them no motivations and thoughts to inform on their action, the results will be flat and uninteresting. Remember, everyone (and every character) perceives the world in different ways. Write accordingly.

As always, thank y'all for reading. If you like it, feel free to share it and/or comment. I love hearing what everyone has to say. Until next time...

Beware of traps,


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Between the Seconds

So here I am again. It's been a while.

It certainly has.

Borat presents a rather apt topic. Why have I remained silent so long? The short answer is that I've been busy. The real answer is that I've been lazy.

Not drinking, though.  I promise.

Well, I suppose both answers are partially true. I have certainly been busy. And also lazy...

OK, I'm not getting anywhere with this. The truth is that pursuing writing extracurricularly (not a word, I know) is difficult. The reality is that while we have dreams and other lofty goals, our mortal need for food and shelter take precedence over such trivialities as building a writing career. Yet we must do it anyway.

One of the more interesting history lectures I've had the privilege to benefit from in school deals with the wealthy upper class of America's Gilded Age, and their theories of the Gospel of Wealth and Social Darwinism. For the uninitiated, the former essentially states that the accumulation of wealth is good, and that folks who are wealthy deserve to be wealthy and that those who are poor deserve to be poor. According to the Gospel, if the poor had enough resourcefulness and essential pluck, it would be possible for such people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps into the grandeur of America's elite. Concurrently, Social Darwinism makes good use of Herbert Spencer's phrase "survival of the fittest," (a term not, ironically enough, belonging to Charles Darwin) supporting the Gospel of Wealth by stating that only the best and brightest eventually became wealthy, while it was just the chaff that remained in the the lower social classes.

In practice, however, this theory is not always valid -- especially for newly-arrived immigrants to late 19th and early 20th century America, when the Gospel of Wealth and Social Darwinism developed. Most of America's self-made men -- men like Andrew Carnegie -- were given opportunities and help all their lives, all of which combined to help them climb the social ladders. It's also worth mentioning that the vast majority of America's upper class became wealthy by inheriting it, followed closely by folks marrying into it. Self-made fortunes were a distant third.

For many of America's poor, however, no such opportunities -- or even basic education or a roof over their heads -- existed. Famous contemporary photographer Jacob August Riis documented the plight of newly-arrived immigrants in America's inner cities.

Opportunities are abound.

I digress, however. My point is that such theories as the "myth" of the self-made man -- myth, half-truth, or not -- eventually came to embody our national identity. Ask anyone on the street, and they're likely to tell you that they believe it is possible, through hard work and pluck, for anyone to become rich. The simple truth is, however, that the majority of people die in the same class they were born into. Most people have dreams, myself obviously included. The problem with dreams, however, is that most go unfulfilled. Life gets in the way. For me, life includes school and work. Most successful writers faced the same problem when they were trying to break in. And all of them overcame it. This post is as much an affirmation to myself as anything else. Those times I spend relaxing after work or school, I need to spend writing. My best work needs to be between the seconds of the rest of my life.

My dream is important to me, and although I might never achieve meteoric success and riches (and I'm not sure I want to), I, like most, believe hard work is necessary to bring my dream to fruition. If I don't get there, I feel I have no one other than myself to blame. I may need special opportunities and a measure of luck, but I believe I can do it.

As always, thank y'all for reading, and I hope to read your comments soon.

Remember to spay and neuter your pets,


P.S. -- Some of you may have noticed the Five for Fighting song near the top of my home page. It will come into play in a future post, so listen well. :)