Subjects you do and don't avoid - Fiction as Essay

2 weeks ago | Shaeor (Member)

As someone who likes to debate and talk philosophy, that's not what I want to do here, but I want to ask how it is you express your worldviews in writing. Beyond the unintentional, which is the unavoidable, and understanding that most don't frame their works explicitly as a kind of thesis, but I thought it'd make a good thread to ask: What subjects have you consciously answered and avoided in your writing?

What parts of yourself do you put into your work? An indomitable protagonist drudging on against the odds? A misunderstood hero with good intentions? What does your story say about the world? If you had to be analytical, how much of your writing speaks directly about things, and is it a nihilistic attitude, a hopeful one?

I stuck to broad stuff, I know, and avoided giving race and other social issues an address, even though it came up in the interplay between my black protagonist and demon side character, and in the Utopian themes. Shows my priorities and ultimately what I wrote it about, which was the individual trying to reject the inexorable conditions of his life. What preference between political, personal, and philosophical themes do you strike?

So if you had to try and explain, if applicable and because I'm really curious, what are the attitudes your work put forward about the world?

This is just an indirect way to ask everyone what they chose to write about as their story, not plot. But I'll just leave all that extra stuff in.

CHOSEN SHACKLES The screen is running static. Face your shadow.
DIRGE The light is dying. Hold your breath and go gently.

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Responses

  1. unice5656 (Member)

    Posted 2 weeks ago

    Heh, interesting question to answer. Not sure if the answer is interesting to read, but I'll give it a go.

    Putting your writing where other people can see it feels like walking naked in public until you realize that people read way less into your writing than you do. Then it feels like walking naked in public while invisible, haha.

    What I consciously avoid writing about are basically things I don't understand and don't think I could pull off if I tried. And that's a lot, because I grew up sheltered, in a stable and supportive family. I've never experienced anything I count as significant chronic stress. Obviously, my stories have to have some sort of conflict and excitement or else they wouldn't really count as stories, but I generally remove them from the real world. In fantasyland, my characters' reaction to imaginary strife is realistic enough to pass.

    I'm not an emotional person, and it comes across in my characters. They've been described as 'versions of the same generic good guy', 'stable and centred', and 'flat', depending on the reader. I've had someone tell me to 'show, not tell' when I'm describing the emotional journeys of my characters, but this isn't particularly possible all the time. I'm not a particularly physical person and a lot of the time, my emotions don't manifest very much on the surface. The way I depict emotions is realistic to my experience of them, but to someone who experiences them in a different way, it feels flat and shallow. Others find it emotionally soothing compared to all the struggle and angst commonly found in other stories.

    Despite that, I'm also a huge sucker for romance. People taking care of each other with no expectation of a return or reward is a central theme of pretty much anything I write. It's a feel-good type of theme and my writing has been described as 'fluffy' or 'fuzzy' not a few times.

    I'm also ceaselessly analytical about the world. This comes across in multiple ways. My characters are probably a lot more aware of the driving motivations behind their thoughts, feelings, and actions than people generally are. My magic systems are always clearly explained and rigidly rule-bound. I have a fondness for puns.

    If I had to state the attitude my writing shows towards the world, it would probably be 'pragmatic'. You take what you have and make the best of it, hopefully leaving it a better place. You expect better of yourself but don't take failures to mean you've failed as a person. You're honest with yourself, and that honesty leads to a type of confidence that is truly self-confidence, completely unshaken by other people's words or opinions. And in the middle of all that deep introspection and noble action, you take time to laugh and have fun.

  2. TanaNari (Member)

    Posted 2 weeks ago

    - "but I want to ask how it is you express your worldviews in writing."

    I... rarely do... I express the *character* worldviews, while allowing my own to sit on the sideline. I have never had any important character whom I fully endorsed, nor one that I couldn't sympathize with at least a little.

    - "What subjects have you consciously answered and avoided in your writing?"

    I like tackling things like the cycle of poverty, revenge and learning that the world you think you is wonderful is a flawed and broken thing. I don't think that's so much a "world view" as "reality isn't a particularly nice place".

    There's nothing I've got written up on my 'avoid' other than to do my best not to write about things I know nothing of. My knowledge of fashion is pretty much zero, so I don't write characters who know lots on the subject. Same with musical instruments.

    Fortunately, I'm a graduate of the School of Hard Knocks... which means I can write about all the most interesting subjects easily enough.

    However, from now on I'll be avoiding ever writing anything with a depressed main character ever again. Apparently I'm the writing equivalent of a Method Actor... and it's just not pleasant to be in that headspace. I try not to think too hard about how I can write Serial Killer fine, yet can't handle melancholy.

    - "What parts of yourself do you put into your work?"

    I tend to give little traits that remind me of myself or those I know to all my characters. It keeps things interesting. At the same time, I like them more different from me than similar... because I already know what *I'm* like, the fun is in seeing *other* perspectives.

    - An indomitable protagonist drudging on against the odds? A misunderstood hero with good intentions? What does your story say about the world? If you had to be analytical, how much of your writing speaks directly about things, and is it a nihilistic attitude, a hopeful one?"

    All over the place. The only thing I can't do is stick to one thing. I'll write high fantasy one book, gritty war story the next, and silly anime-esque after that. But if forced to stick to one tone too long, I'll get bored.

    - "So if you had to try and explain, if applicable and because I'm really curious, what are the attitudes your work put forward about the world?"

    If I were to try to make it quotable?... Hmm...

    "Everyone is flawed. Perfection is impossible. The difference between the best of us and the worst, is that the best try to make themselves better, while the worst try to drag the world down to their level."

    Author of Price.
  3. Shaeor (Member)

    Posted 2 weeks ago

    Definitely interesting to read, at least for me, @Unice/Tana. For anybody else, that's the kind of answer I was really looking for. Very insightful. I'm trying to get a sense for how people tackle their writing as an expression, not just a mechanical plot, you know? There's a lot that we take for granted that makes our works unique and that can make or break it, beyond plot or marketing, imho. Kind of the soul of it. At the very least, it's neat to glimpse what other writers think about their own stuff.

    CHOSEN SHACKLES The screen is running static. Face your shadow.
    DIRGE The light is dying. Hold your breath and go gently.
  4. nippoten (Member)

    Posted 2 weeks ago

    >What subjects have you consciously answered and avoided in your writing?

    I've been informed by readers and commenters that I'm pretty good at handling race and income inequality, with the latter surprising me a little bit. I wasn't exactly trying to go for some kind of statement with that, but maybe some caught it with how I have different characters with different backgrounds interacting with each other.

    As far as subjects I avoid, if I know enough about something, I'll take a chance at writing it. If I'm avoiding anything, it's because I don't know enough about it yet.

    >What parts of yourself do you put into your work?
    Good question. I'm tempted to say too much? But that's a tricky answer to provide.

    Some of my favorite works of art are ones that the artist put a lot of themselves into. Inio Asano is one, especially with his most recent work, Downfall. Neon Genesis Evangelion is pretty much a textbook example of this approach. In music, it'd be Danny Brown's XXX or Earl Sweatshirt's aptly titled I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside. When done right, it usually gives a more human element to a work that I can connect to more easily. In my appreciation for such works, I ended up doing something similar.

    A lot of myself goes into my characters and setting. A few characters might have some of my own personal traits, others might just share an interest I gave them. My fears and insecurities also get handed out like candy. I know I have enough to go around.

    But, by that point, they're their own people. They're thoughts and actions are their own, and there should be consequences that are born from that. I give my characters bits of me, and they run with it, on their own volition. If they fall because of it, I make sure they fall hard.

    To post a quote of my own, I really like this one found in Tokyo Ghoul :re. Japanese art has a lot more emphasis on using a work to express the feelings of the creator, so it's an interesting insight to an author and their creative process.

    "The reason expressions get repeated throughout images, sentences, creative works, is not because their creator is especially skilled at their creation but because he or she suffers from some fundamental complex."

  5. GeneralRincewind (Member)

    Posted 2 weeks ago

    @nippoten: I do believe that most of the art that has ever been created express the feeling of the creator. Impressionism? Expressionim? Postmodernisn? To say that Japanese art has a lot more emphasis on using a work to express the feelings of the creator is reductive, and indicative of some bias.

  6. Walter (Member)

    Posted 2 weeks ago

    I definitely shy away from anything that is political, and also anything that is in the news. People go NUTS if you touch certain issues. Better to entertain.

  7. nippoten (Member)

    Posted 2 weeks ago

    @Rince Yeah there's definitely bias there.

  8. Sharkerbob (Member)

    Posted 2 weeks ago

    How it is you express your worldviews in writing.

    I don’t think I do, honestly. My worldview is largely nihilistic-pragmatic, and “live and let live”. My work tends to be about characters who have superhuman power, agency, and do things with purpose. If anything, it’s the antithesis of my worldview. Or perhaps it’s just escapist fantasy for escapist fantasy’s sake.

    What subjects have you consciously answered and avoided in your writing?

    I dunno that I actively avoid specific subjects, and I don’t really think in terms of themes. Nonetheless, the way I try to write ends up being counter to a lot of what I see in fiction these days, so I guess I’m kind of a contrarian.

    I can’t stand stories about shitty people being shitty to each other. I like stories about heroes being heroic.

    I hate casts of characters that are constantly fighting and being catty and posturing and trying to one-up each other. I prefer stories where characters either get along, or at least can act professionally. I like seeing chemistry between characters, but fights within the team should be reserved for important issues.

    I don’t like immature, emotionally erratic, wack-a-doo characters, I prefer characters with maturity and stoicism. If there’s a comic relief, I prefer them to be witty and clever, not a disruptive Looney Tune. Similarly, if there’s a “hot-headed character” his attitude should not be so extreme that he regularly destabilizes team cohesion.

    Along these same lines, I have no interest in writing “coming of age” stories. I prefer characters who are already grown up.

    I don’t like characters who mope and get emo over having powers and being different and put upon. Almost all of my characters are perfectly comfortable with what they are. This is not to say they do not have internal conflicts at times, but these conflicts have more to do with what they are going to do with themselves and their powers and responsibilities, and not about “woe is me, I never wanted to be a superhuman.”

    I hate it when characters are let off the hook. Characters should be responsible for their actions, and actions should have consequences.

    I don’t get invested in character’s romantic drama. I tend to avoid developing or emotionally erratic romances. I much prefer to see couples who are already together and work well as partners.

    Whether I consciously intend to or not, these tend to be how my characters align as I conceive them, and how they end up as I write them. Unfortunately, this can lead to some rather boring casts in my work, I’ve noticed, especially compared to what seems to be the popular tropes of cast-building in fiction. Something I’m trying to rediscover is how to make engaging characters without making them revert to the tropes I dislike.

    Only other thing I think I avoid is politics, but mostly because I have no interest in turning my work into a soap box for my ideological views. Probably because my ideology is mostly summed up into “live and let live”, so I’m not actively concerned about telling people how they should think.

    What parts of yourself do you put into your work?

    Hard to say. I think, possibly to my detriment, a lot of the conflict in my work comes from exterior forces encroaching on the characters, or characters going forth to explore. There’s a lot of “man vs man”, “man vs nature” conflicts, much moreso than “man vs self” conflicts.

    I wouldn’t say I’m unconflicted as an individual, but I also am not hung up on a lot of things. I’m a simple man, with simple needs. I don’t think I’m at peace, but I’m content in a lot of ways, and am resigned in others. I am what I am. I think this translates into a lot of my characters lacking the sort of self-conflict you see in characters from other works. This doesn’t mean they don’t have flaws, just, they know what they want, and they go do it.

    Huh, putting it that way, I guess that’s sort of a projected contrast to my sluggish attitude towards life.

    An indomitable protagonist drudging on against the odds?

    There’s some of those. The character can’t just win by being “really determined,” though.

    A misunderstood hero with good intentions?

    Not a fan of misunderstandings, either. Tend not to pop up. But I do have some heroes who royally screw things up, and it gets depressing.

    What does your story say about the world?

    Probably nothing.

    If you had to be analytical, how much of your writing speaks directly about things, and is it a nihilistic attitude, a hopeful one?

    Ah, again, hard to say. My stuff is largely just escapist fantasy. Life is what it is. People need to just seize their own destiny, if they can, I guess.

    What preference between political, personal, and philosophical themes do you strike?

    Not really concerned with political. I don’t really know what philosophies my stuff really espouses. On the personal level, I prefer seeing well-grounded characters in fantastical situations. Make of that what you will.

    So if you had to try and explain, if applicable and because I'm really curious, what are the attitudes your work put forward about the world?

    LOL, honestly, I don’t know how on topic anything I said actually was. The world is what it is, so I dream of something different. That’s pretty much it.

    My meager offerings: http://sharkerbob.blogspot.com/
  9. Dary (Member)

    Posted 2 weeks ago

    Everything in my serial ultimately comes down to identity, from the focus on personal creativity and (mis)perceptions of others, to the objectification (and manifestation) of ideals, both spiritual and physical, and the consequences of reincarnation. You could probably summarise the overarching conflict as one between "Be who you want to be" and "Know your place": should an individual be able to choose (and change) their identity as and when they see fit, or should they accept the one society hands them? And, though I very much side with the former of those, I'm not painting either as the 'right' or 'wrong' choice.

    There are numerous secondary themes (depression, nihilism, martyrdom, cult mentality, harsh reality verses comfortable illusion, etcetera) but they generally weave in and around those ideas of identity.

    If I have to cover something I don't understand, I research. And, by sheer inevitability, I touch on real life and political issues, but if that's the way the story goes then who am I to stop it?

  10. Jim Zoetewey (Moderator)

    Posted 2 weeks ago

    How do I express my worldview in my fiction?

    I suppose the obvious question to start with is “What’s my worldview?” Well, I’m a straight, white male in his 40s who’s married and has kids. I work in IT, but have academic background (as in attended graduate school) in both religion and sociology (as well as IT). I also got around 20+ credits in creative writing during my undergraduate.

    I have interests in food, history (local as well as world), music (70s prog rock, altenative & indie rock, and jazz). I play bass guitar, play trumpet, have taken singing lessions, and sometimes compose music. I’ve trained in Tae Kwon Do. I’ve enjoyed water polo, swimming, and long distance running. Religiously, I come out of an obscure, fairly conservative evangelical denomination with an oddly intellectual bent (and a Calvinist theology). In seminary, my student id was 666. I found this funny. Personally, I’m fairly optimistic and enjoy learnng about a wide variety of subjects.

    How does that translate into my serial?
    I write a superhero serial that definitely leans in the optimistic end of the spectrum while trying to be realistic about the fighting as well as the social aspects of the story. That means that I deliberately include superpowered characters of both genders, different sexualities, and races because that reflects the world I live in. I also know what my various characters’ religions (or lack thereof) are because that matters too.

    Optimism
    My optimism probably comes out most strongly in assuming that people can figure out the answers to problems. A zombie plague is briefly referenced in the story along with the fact that people are now vaccinated against it. If I ever decide to reference it again, it will probably be in reference to anti-vaxxers. I guess someone could say that I don’t seek out opportunities to reference current issues, but I don’t shy away from them if they organically appear.

    Organic Use of Background
    That said, I don’t spend a lot of time dwelling on ethnicity, sexuality or religion because people aren’t reading my serial for a lecture on diversity. Despite that, I do make those sort of issues matter occasionally. One conflict in a romantic relationship was that one character didn’t want to force his religion on another character, but also didn’t want to have a long term relationship if she wasn’t part of his religion. I found it interesting, but more importantly, true to life as I’ve experienced it.

    I also enjoy putting both actual history and the history of the various periods of superhero comics in my work because I feel like stories should have a historical context. Also, the main character of the Legion of Nothing shares my optimism, but his interest in understanding how things work is much more focused on technology than mine is.

    Attitude Toward Fighting
    In addition, I’ve generally had the main character’s attitude toward fighting mirror the one I learned while taking martial arts. In summary, that’s 1) avoid fights and 2) if you can’t avoid them, do the minimum damage required to win or survive. This sounds almost like a pacifist until you consider that the minimum damage may require you to kill someone.

    I suspect the aspects of my worldview that appear unintentionally might be more interesting than the ones that appear intentionally.

  11. LadyAnder (Member)

    Posted 2 weeks ago

    How do I express my worldview in my fiction?

    I don't but I do in a small way. However, that's not my purpose because I don't write soapboxes neither do I like reading them. My ultimate goal is to write what I want to read and to be entertaining. I don't want to read someone hammering their political and social view over my head. That's what Twitter is for.

    And while my story writing tends to lean on realistic covering things that most fantasy fiction wouldn't do. I don't do epic battles and I've nothing against that, I just don't see what I could possibly add to what feels like a super saturated. I rather my character confront their own personal issues instead of getting buried under battles. And those kinds of stories rise up from people around me and my life which isn't that exciting but fun to convert that into a fantasy setting. It’s slice-of-life fluff because I do like fluff. If you can see through the fluff and my most common reason for writing something, it should exist, then maybe you might see a world view in there. Probably, the world is sometimes a dark and horrible place where people die, unfair stuff happens, and you don’t get what you want. Though, sometimes good come from something bad, life continues on, and life if unfair, but I find often times, you get what you need. So yeah a bunch of feel good fluff so I don’t get to cynical. It’s not really healthy anyway.
    A lot of my characters have pieces of me that might manifest into something very unlike me. It works out better that way instead of consciously trying to make a character be something. I want them to be what I need for the story, something I like, and then have them do something that I can exasperate as I’m writing.

    Things I avoid? Things I don't know how to properly express or things I just don't want to write. Theses can change and there are few subjects such as politics and rape are those main things that probably won’t get written. Erotic is another thing. I’ve reasons for all of those, one brings out the stupidity of others, the other is often used as a cheap element for trauma, and the other one, I don’t care how easy it sells, I’m not writing it.

    A slice-of-life fantasy novel--> https://hyruhhaserial.wordpress.com/
  12. BGHilton (Member)

    Posted 2 weeks ago

    I don't really avoid topics. There are topics I doubt I could write about well, but they're also topics I don't want to write about. I don't avoid 'politics' because I don't think you can. When I started writing my story in 2016 I decided that the bad guys were Nazis, because surely no one is less controversially the 'bad guys' than Nazis, right? Then 2017 hit and... well, you know what happened next. By the same token, there are things in my story that I don't think are political that other people do. There's a very ethnically diverse cast in the hardware centre where my story is set, but that's just because there's an ethnically diverse workforce at my local hardware centre. I've had people tell me I'm being PC, but I just see it as realism.

    Looking not just at my serial but at my handful of published short stories, the constants are that responsibility is a big issue. I like morally imperfect heroes, and I like redemption stories, but I don't think the good guys should be free of responsibility for their actions just because they're the good guys. Yes, even good people make bad decisions; no, that's not a get-out-of-jail-free card.

    The other thing that keeps coming up is that I'm extremely suspicious of savior characters -- the 'man on the white horse' sort of hero. In my stories, either the good guys get together to deal with the problem, or the problem remains unsolved. And I'm not a Utopian -- solving a problem/defeating the bad guys just means that there's one less problem or one fewer groups of bad guys in the world. It's a plus, but it's not the end.

    Which is a pretty austere worldview, I guess, for someone who predominantly writes comedy.

  13. revfitz (Member)

    Posted 2 weeks ago

    Interesting topic Shaeor!

    The only thing I have been avoiding in Existential Terror and Breakfast is virtue ethics (ancient or modern), because if my main character discovers eudaimonia or fulfilling oneself through "active engagement in projects of worth" I would have nothing to write about. My whole story falls apart if my character finds a hobby that he is truly passionate about.

    As far as expressing myself through my writing I can't help but to look at the darkest parts of life and joke about them. Humor, even if it is incredibly dry, is a survival instinct of mine. The absurd, no matter how cruel or impersonal, is the punchline.

    The goals of my main character are not my own, and I suppose that was on purpose. He yearns for a place in society as I have a deep knee jerk reaction to stand outside of it. I am not a normal person, and I live an eccentric lifestyle, so it is important to me to write about someone who is normal. Alice in Wonderland is interesting because there is nothing inherently interesting about Alice herself, so I suppose I am drawn to that. I also wanted to push myself and try to make something that is inherently boring (random musings during breakfast) interesting. Writing about the "hero on the world's edge" is great, but it is also easy. No idea if I have been successful in this experiment.

    @ALL
    I don't have time to list any specifics, but it has been incredibly interesting to read all of your thoughts. I love this kind of thing!

    Existential Terror and Breakfast--A serial with cereal.
    Updates Wednesdays at: revfitz.com
  14. gloomybear86 (Member)

    Posted 1 week ago

    My stories tend to involve a focus on alternate morality, because that's a thing I've always been interested in. Are people bad because they do bad things, or do they do bad things because they're bad? Or can you be a good person who does bad things?

    So I wrote a western where the main character is solely after his own revenge but, in the process, accomplishes good things as a byproduct. And I write a serial where the main characters are all thieves, but they're the "good" type of thieves, if such a thing is possible. Obviously, I'm not personally represented in either of those protagonists (except that they both have a tendency towards sarcasm), and I wouldn't necessarily say that the stores are indicative of any cohesive worldview. They do spring from my own questions and opinions about the world, though, so I suppose there's a little bit of my own life in my characters.

    (And family issues, but I don't really dive terribly deep into those. It just tends to be a common thread.)

    For Riches or More: You can't always steal what you want.

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