Expanding horizons June 10, 2013Posted by thejinx in writing.
Tags: attitudes, beliefs, book, fantasy, novel, opinions, sex, worldbuilding, writing
Trying to write a well-rounded and thoroughly developed fantasy world can really open one’s eyes to points of view and beliefs one might not give much credit otherwise. There are different sides to every conflict and whether one can objectively classify one side or another as wrong, each side fundamentally believes in the validity of its stance. And if it is portrayed right, there should be sympathetic or at least understandable reasons for those sides to feel that way, even if the actions that arise from those beliefs are vile. This can, of course, result in moral ambiguity even on the author’s part, which isn’t easy to address, but is a fact of life.
I’d like to think I’ve become fairly good at opening my mind to other ways of thinking as a result of this. I don’t like to write conflicts as black and white and I don’t want to create a villain as a plot device for the heroes to overcome. People and conflicts are complex. Generally, my desire to portray that in my writing has made me at least want to be more open-minded to other points of view. I’ll admit I still have a hard time coming to terms with some things I come across, but my guiding philosophy has always been ‘to each his own.’
Some issues and the way we feel about them, however, are so ingrained into us that trying to think outside of that norm involves a huge jump in ideology.
Case in point: sex.
My thoughts on this topic can pretty much be summed up by saying that I don’t really like to talk about it. At least on a personal level, which is more or less the focus of this whole rant.
But that’s the issue. For many or most people, it seems, opinions about sex are such fundamental and strongly held beliefs that often, if not usually, one cannot discuss it without it turning into a political or religious issue. These are beliefs that, even if one is not religious, are ingrained into us since birth, and many people believe in them and defend them so powerfully that challenging what is ultimately a subjective subject can lead to hostility. While I try to be more open-minded about the topic, I admit that I am still heavily influenced by the way society views sex. In fact, because of the way I have been raised – consciously or not – to look at it, which is likely the reason I generally don’t like to discuss it, I found it quite difficult just to write this much on the subject. This is just the way life is and stepping outside my own beliefs on the topic is very difficult.
But I must if I am to write a story and world the way it should be, not the way I might like it to be. Sex is a fact of life and it comes up within the world I created. More to the point, I am about to introduce a people who hold fundamentally different attitudes toward it. And being such a basic part of life, these attitudes have a far-ranging impact on the society as a whole. Ultimately, this means thinking a lot on the subject.
Sometimes, it just feels weird. It helps that there is historical precedent for beliefs like this that I can look to, but it’s still so very different from what seems the entire modern world feels that it can be discomforting to look at this fictional culture adopting attitudes that most people, perhaps even most of the people who will read this, could find distasteful or even offensive.
It is easier to address the issue in an unbiased manner in my own thoughts, however. And ultimately, whether I agree with their beliefs or not, this is the way this society works, and I must learn – and have, I think – to get into their world and their heads, to leave my own preconceptions behind and understand what it is like to live in their world.
… but I still don’t want to talk about it.
Has anything you’ve written challenged your way of thinking about a subject? Have you written something that needed to be written the way it did, even though it made you or someone else uncomfortable to do so?