I started this line of thought yesterday on Twitter while walking the dog in the park.
We are constantly making decisions about what is important. Decisions about what is important are also being made on a subconscious level simply about perception & what we intake from the environment around us, which we are perceiving and absorbing and filtering every moment of our lives on some level. In a similar way our unexamined cultural assumptions can cause us to do a lot of filtering we aren’t necessarily aware of.
We can’t absorb everything in our environment, so we block. But as writers and readers if we aren’t alert, we do the same without knowing it.
I think this question of perception and filtering is tricky. Maybe we walk a tight rope between being overwhelmed and being blinkered.
When my spouse and I got back to the parking lot with the dog, I headed for the side of the lot where we have parked the last few times we’ve been there. This time we had parked on the other side of the lot, and my spouse had to remind me that we were parked in a different place than usual.
I reflected how, in writing and even in reading, I tend to head for the familiar side of the story. Often if I don’t stop to think about it I just replicate patterns that are the most common in our culture and media, the things that I am told over and over again are the most real and authentic as currently defined and delineated by the society in which I live or, more properly, by the constant deluge of messages cascading down upon me through media, art, received knowledge, local patterns of human interaction, environment, and the very items easily available to me.
There are some aspects of me reverting to defaults that I think are okay and even in some ways potentially necessary to mental health. Everything can’t be brand-new. Everything can’t be a climb uphill in a blizzard of new information and re-situating myself in my environment.
If we aren’t grounded in some familiar aspects, then we’re just lost.
I remember reading many years ago a science fiction novel by Cecilia Holland which I really didn’t understand at all because the author had done such a good job of making the aliens truly alien to my then-reading brain. I simply could not connect with the story. (I have no idea how I would react to the story now.)
But at the same time, I have to be careful. I have myself responded to stories or novels in which I find a character or culture to “feel” unbelievable only because it doesn’t match the stereotype that I may have based on my own narrow cultural assumptions about things as various as gender, history, language, identity, and money (and so on).
As a writer I must push back against and remain alert to places where I slide into the unexamined default. Last week’s post on Andevai’s character development is an example of how I started writing a book with the idea in my mind of a fairly stereotypical alpha male character who I later rethought and revised to turn into someone who I hope is more complex and not quite as stereotypical. (although readers’ mileage may vary)
What are your thoughts on this?
Can you think of an example in your own writing where you started with one idea and then realized that you were your own self maybe perpetuating an assumption or stereotype that you didn’t actually want to perpetuate?
Can you think of an example in something you’ve read where your expectations weren’t met, or where what would have been a standard solution was undermined or overturned in a pleasing or unexpected way?