We all undoubtedly have memories of doing something stupid and our parents saying something like “if all your friends jumped off a bridge would you do that too?” The point, just because other people are doing something doesn’t mean we should do it too. This is one of the major themes in my latest short story.
Most of us know intellectually that following the crowd and believing what others believe just because it’s popular is not healthy. However, most people are still guilty of this. I know I have been. It is hard being the odd person out. Humans desire to have belonging among other people because we are social creatures so it becomes easier than we like to compromise our beliefs, or at best downplay them. How many kids swear they will never smoke, but do that exact same thing when they are a little older because their friends are doing it?
It is easy to spew platitudes about thinking for ourselves and doing our own thing, but in practice it is far more difficult. This is the inspiration for my latest book The Cursed Forest. There are many odd beliefs circulating lately that I would wager most people who adhere to them don’t really know why they believe it. Look no further than our current political climate. How many people vote simply because there is a “D” or an “R” after a candidate’s name? His desire to fit in, I believe, is the driving factor behind the tribalism in our culture.
How many dangerous ideas spread quickly due to fear of what others might think? Children’s television shows constantly teach “being your own person “but some adults don’t adhere to this logic though. Take a look no further than the atrocities of the 20th century. Sadly, history is replete with examples of group think and allowing or attributing to terrible things. The best way to curb this is to know why we believe what we believe and to resist compromising our believers because an ideology is popular.
We hear about open-mindedness a lot in our culture. It is often viewed as a good thing, a virtue even. Those who adhere to traditional values on the other hand are viewed as the antonym of open-minded, and the enemy of diversity. While that certainly can be true, open-mindedness, like everything else must be tempered.
Being open to ideas, experiences, and other people’s beliefs is a generally a good thing. In a society that is so divided, a little more of that would do wonders to bring about healing. Not all ideas are equal. Some view all religions, political beliefs, and philosophies to be the same. If only people would understand that, then there would be peace, right? Not exactly. Many belief systems are destructive, and because we are human, even the good and true ones often get warped.
A balance should be struck between the hardened skeptic and the hippy that believes anything goes. Listening to people is always important, but that doesn’t mean their ideas are valid, in fact they might be very toxic to society. How much toxicity have we allowed into our culture for the sake of being “open-minded?” That is a question the reader will have to answer for him or herself. I certainly do not have the answer, but with all the dystopian media I have consumed along with the insane ideas now peddled as truth, I cannot help but wonder if fiction is closer to reality than I had thought.
I have written about avoiding clichés, and even pointing out clichés that aren’t discussed often. Something else came to my attention recently. Most stories have clichés, in fact I cannot think of a single book, movie, or TV show that completely avoids clichés. Perhaps there is something out there that doesn’t utilize an overused trope in its story, but I do not believe I encountered one.
The issue is how often do clichés appear and how they are utilized. There are common threads that bind genres together, obviously, that is what makes them genres. Yet, when something like a magical weapon that must be found, or destroyed in order to destroy the big bad is used, we automatically think of Tolkien. In fact, that cliché is so overused in the fantasy genre that a story guilty of using this type of plot will be accused of being a Lord of the Rings rip-off. However, lesser-used clichés, like a character finding what he needs in the middle of the book will be less obnoxious and more forgivable.
Stories that have noticeably less clichés and strive to be their own tale, instead of a repackage of their inspiration are what authors strive for. In the search for originality, it is easy to loop back around into the territory of cliché once again. Us writers should always intend to avoid things that are over used, but sometimes it is inevitable. Just like in the real world, things repeat. It is simply important to know when and where to use them and to be careful.