Part one of a short series of posts about the building blocks of writing, deconstructed.
( As a disclaimer: I have little to no sources cited for this, as it’s mostly my opinion and things I’ve learned in psychology and anthropology classes in the past. Other than proven things, such as the Hierarchy of Needs, none of this is scientific fact, just a stream of consciousness. )
It occurred to me the other day that it’s not just the way that we develop and evolve as a people, but also what our needs become, which seemed to stick out like a sore thumb after re-reading what I’d written.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs directly correlates to what we do as a people. The reason a majority of the civilized nations’ populations are on smartphones and glued to the internet is because of this. It’s what determines how we tackles problems, what’s more important to us, and what’s not.
Most of the developed countries have the first and second one secured by one form or another, unless you’re being tortured or otherwise horribly mistreated. Though I realize that you could go with a less basic view and see it as a psychological safety too, which may or may not be there.
When I thought about it, people in the 11,000 BCE era and backward (and a bit forward) struggled sometimes on the bottom rung of the pyramid. Food was hunted or gathered, winters being the worse for scarce resources, they didn’t have much in the way of healing, and sometimes, more often than not, they were nomadic. Some of their most basic needs were encroached upon by the world around them and the lack of knowledge about the body and what it did or needed.
If we go up, safety was sometimes more infrequent if you consider them being kept from danger completely, but it was not so hard to achieve for them. Hunter and gatherer people knew how to work together to make the village flourish, from what I can tell, everyone contributed and there was not a total lack of ’employment’ for whatever sense that can be put in. Again, here, the winters are the hardest because they have to live off of the land that cannot provide for them when it’s frozen.
There’s more breakdown than that, but I think you get the picture: that there are things back within the past thousands of years that humanity has been on this earth, that we lack then that we don’t now.
It was something that came to me when I was thinking about ‘normal’ or ‘expected’ behavior of certain individuals in our societies this days as opposed to one hundred or even a thousand years prior. There are things we didn’t know, whether it was how to do it, how to counter it, or how to treat it; we had so many other problems to take care of back so many years ago that we couldn’t focus as much on the frivolity. We were more concerned about the black plague back in medieval times than we were about reading or writing. Learning and education came later when we could handle our health better and knew what was going on around us.
When our scholars learned, we learned as well. And our scholars could only learn if they could live.
Not all of it is about living, though. It was also about keeping ourselves safe and secured, having some kind of work not only to provide for the community we were a part of, but to keep ourselves and our families taken care of. Sex was still mostly about reproduction, but the more we evolved, the more it became about recreation. So the notion of ‘waiting for marriage’ because it was better to have a union established with which to support children, is becoming outdated now because of what we’ve developed in medicine (birth control) and how large our population is now. There is no need to reproduce, is the growing trend, because it’s being replaced instead by a desire to have a family.
Safety, in some countries, is harder to come by than others, where the employment rate and being employed at all is dependent upon how you live. Where capitalism reigns supreme, it’s more difficult to be comfortable. Currency, as I said in the previous post, has evolved to become the trade of choice for how we acquire things. It is our support structure now where livestock and crops and goods like blankets and clothing used to be. When the Native Americans traded with the Europeans for beads and fur, it was because those things would have lasted them, and done very well to provide in a way, that they had high value.
Which reminds me that lobster was once undervalued in comparison to what we see today (HAH, I have a source for that, at least!).
Evolution and development of country and humanity. Whew.
That’s something interesting to do, finding a character that’s seen all of this and writing them through the ages. What have they seen, what kind of loss have they gone through, what has their enormously long life been like through all of these thousands of years?
I sort of let myself get lost in this topic, so apologies to anyone who doesn’t care for it, but I felt the need to share because my head exploded with ideas and thoughts. That it all seemed so obvious after I considered it. All of the religious wars and the high mortality rates and the average death being halved from what it is today, not to mention the way that technology has garnered some flack because of how attached to it we are, even if looking back shows that we’ve done what we can avoid people before.
A love of history also comes in to my writing this. So it’s my inner historian that goes wild at comparisons and the consideration of how we’ve evolved as well as our needs and what we do both for fun and for our well-being.
People who complain about “kids these days,” are more attached to the way things used to be in their day and probably more averse to change, because no matter what century or decade you were born in or live in, things will be forever changing. New things and advancements and experiments are introduced that further our ability to live and do it well.
Speaking of that, it’s been something I think of when it comes to stories that span a society or world or universe of people over a long period of time. You can’t have things be static from one point to the next if it’s over a course of 30 or 40 years, or even just 15 (in the case of one of my novels), because things are always changing. There has to be an obvious point of development. Static makes things easier for you because there may be less to remember, but it’s also difficult to gauge the way the society is progressing.
Evolution is not just physical, it’s not just the difference in gene mutations as we adapt to our world, but the adaptations we make together, in society and with communication, what fits our needs.
Another thing that I was thinking about was the surfacing of terms like ‘transgender’ and ‘pansexual,’ which were on the rise and originated in the 90s. It certainly doesn’t mean that these things didn’t exist back then, hundreds if not thousands of years ago, it just meant that there was less to identify with. The more we learn, the more knowledge we have at our hands to describe and know what we are and what happen with us, the better comfortable we can be with it, if you’re non-binary in gender and sexuality.
Or non-binary in any other way, too. As we develop and learn, the spectrum of which we can identify with grows. Does this mean that those things never existed? Likely not, it just lends to helping us feel more comfortable in our own skin, and to have more to identify with that is acceptable within our societal boundaries.
And on a whole other tangent, what is it really that defines us as being overly offended? What should or shouldn’t we be offended about? Is it the sexist jokes that plenty of people have grown up with being told to them, the gender roles thrown about to shame or humiliate, the plain “jokes” that are about racism and nazis and dead babies and what have you? Or is it smaller things like incidental mistakes and not catering to someone’s whims that really constitute being easily offended?
I could go on for days, probably, about this topic as a whole, which is incredibly broad, when I really think about it. There’s so much to take in about how this whole world works and how it’s changed over the thousands and millions of years, on a basic level and a detailed one.
Thankfully, my huge tangent does apply to writing, especially if you’re building worlds, so it’s not all for naught!
-The Novice Wordsmith
To me, accuracy has always been the end all be all. I grew up not caring about it, but in the past few years, I’ve noticed how important it is. While it goes out the window in movies and shows, there are still those who swear by it.
When you’re writing fiction, the world is in your hands. It is yours to do what you choose with, you create the realism and how things are, you make things the way you see them or how you want them to be. All of that, how the characters react and why, what they say and do and how they move, it’s up to you, but what basis do you go on for what makes it that way?
That was always something difficult for me to remind myself of, especially when writing about something that involves the military. I realized that the type of military was in a totally different universe, so I had the ability to mix and match the values, regulations, rules of any type, all around the world, if I wanted to. There was that level of control. I’m still not finished developing the branch in question, but while I have more friends in the US military, I tend to take from that power the most.
Certain titles and names come from different places around the world, but I’ve used the US system as a base to build up from. On the other hand, I could have made it all up, too, but there should at least be an example that gives you an idea of where to go.
That brings up the question of research, which I shamelessly love.
Writing non-fiction is all about research. It’s digging up links and books and references to the point that you’re making, so much that it becomes countless . It’s the grown version of those papers you did back in high school, in a way.
Research for fiction is different. Writing a police or political thriller, what you find through research can help or hurt where you want to go with the story. It can provide a plot twist or kill an idea and open doors for new ones. Historical fiction, research becomes a little more important.
In conversation with my sister the other night, she mentioned an episode of Doctor Who that had dozens of plot holes, and it was directly tied in to French history. While they have creative license to go about it how they want, there is also a call to keeping things in line, accurate, and making sure things are done correctly. It is the difference between historical while being true to fact, and making up a history on your own. The writer in question did no fact checking, and even came out in saying that he didn’t bother. He just ran with it.
Don’t be intimidated by research. Though it sounds a nasty word, it’s not much more than hitting google and clicking through links that you know or feel are most trustworthy, and there are plenty of resources out there at your disposal.
My friend, after I got into a story about a girl with multiple personality disorder, suggested I talk to a psychologist about case studies on the matter if I wanted to know more. After realizing there was a social worker with a psychology degree at the place I volunteer, I decided to talk to her about the situation, and I got some pretty good information out of it. To my surprise, I was somewhat spot on, but getting a real life example helped a ton.
Other types of research include museums, parks, and going to places in town that have history you’re looking for or writing about. From a guest post, you can find inspiration and information anywhere. Sometimes, it’s right in front of your nose. Even accuracy can be fun!
The devil is in the detail. It all depends on how close you want to be to something, or how you want to portray it.
-The Novice Wordsmith