Anyone who is an adult knows that with maturity comes more responsibilities. If you are a typical adult living on your own with a family you’re raising, this is particularly true. On top of work, raising children, and maintaining a relationship adulthood affords far less spare time than when we were younger. As a result, friendships fall apart and hobbies such as reading become neglected. Are we really so busy? If so, then is it necessary?
Western culture is notorious for cramming our lives with as much stuff and activities as possible. Children and work are huge commitments that take up most of our daily hours. Yet how much of this lack of time is due to having too many obligations instead of poor time management skills? After all, if you really want to read or spend time with a person you would. Sure, there are a plethora of good examples of things that could separate someone from a friend for a prolonged period or their reading hobby.
I have come across many people who say, “I would love to_____ but I just don’t have the time!” Here is my counter to that. The things I really love to do I still manage to do. Things I enjoy but aren’t as passionate about are the ones that get neglected due to “busyness.” Those we love and desire a real relationship with we reach out to even if we our personal lives have little room to work with. As a writer, when I read the statistic that roughly 80% of Americans do not read, I cannot help but wonder if the excuse of busyness is the reason. Then the next question that comes to mind is how can we writers come to terms with this and help American adults effectively rediscover the magic of reading?
Perhaps the answer lies in each and everyone of us contemplating what is our priorities in life. If we enjoy watching television, we will watch it. We all need to take an honest assessment of ourselves and discover our true priorities. If there is someone you think of as your friend but haven’t called him/her for years perhaps deep down, you may love or respect them but they are not really as close to your heart as you believe. The same goes for the more trivial things such as our hobbies. The point is that we all, myself included, need to reassess ourselves sometimes. If something needs to me more of a priority we need to make it so, otherwise we don’t care as much as we claim.
There is something I have noticed in Fantasy, and I’m sure many others have too. Certain races not only share universal characteristics, but individual members are indistinguishable from each other. Take a look at orcs, not just in Lord of the Rings, but in other forms of fiction they have appeared in. Their race is depicted as war-like, strong, and destructive. Depending on the story their might be some variations, but that is typically what happens. Elves are stuck up prudes and dwarves are rowdy Scotsmen essentially. Yes, I know, there are plenty of stories that give a more nuanced approach to these races. However, I feel the generalization of specific races may represent our humanness when it comes to people outside of our group who shares our ideology.
On social media I have become a silent observer of conversations. I have concluded that arguing on Twitter or Facebook about important issues is rather pointless. All it does is cause tension, after all has anyone changed their opinion about something due to an argument on Facebook? If the answer is yes, then I doubt the number is very high. I’ve seen Atheists attack religious people based purely on presuppositions and assumptions instead of what the person is trying to say. I’ve seen the opposite where someone assumes things about all irreligious people and create strawman attacks. This has been happening especially amongst Conservatives and Liberals since the last presidential election. I’ve seen Liberals attack Conservatives, especially white rural Conservatives, for being dumb and uninformed, while Conservatives attack Liberals for having a supposed mental disorder. When it comes to these discussions there only listening or reading to respond, not to hear what the other person has to say. Honestly, this is the sort of thing social media breeds since people can hide behind a computing device and not see the hurt they cause others.
In the Lord of the Rings there is very little attempt to understand orcs. They are orcs and serve the Dark Lord, and there is nothing more to it. This viewpoint may work in fiction depending on how it’s utilized, but reality is nuanced. I have my views on faith and politics, same as anyone else, but I need to listen and understand why someone may believe differently. If we do not spend the time doing that, how then will people ever understand one another? How will the chasm between political belief systems ever be bridged if we cannot even agree on the fundamentals of communication and human decency? Is being right of the utmost importance? These questions I must ask myself a lot, we all should.
We all know the saying, “Just because everyone believes it doesn’t make it true.” Most people understand this is truth intellectually. At the same time how many people believe things just because it is popular, or due to authority figures or intellectuals adhere to the same beliefs?
A common phrase I hear “studies say” is used to shut down conversations with supposed intellectual superiority. Someone may know of a study’s findings and suddenly they are armed with absolute knowledge. However, studies always have flaws. Sure, they are they are the best we got to gather information. Studies are useful tools, but they are based on averages and probabilities, not absolute truth. There are almost always exceptions. I have seen and heard countless discussions about what studies say such as “Liberals are more…” or “Conservatives are more…” which might be true based on what the sociologists discovered, but that hardly is supposed to be a justification for blanket statements.
It isn’t just studies that are abused to justify beliefs, so is science in general. Disclaimer, I am not anti-science. I really like it and appreciate it. I simply do not believe using the phrase “most scientists believe…” as evidence in and of itself. That is an appeal to authority fallacy. Show me the proof as to why scientists came to the conclusion they did, do not tell me what they believe. I want to know why.
These are two reasons I’ve seen large amounts of people believe something, and many times the data is warped to the point it becomes untrue. Ideology often gets in the way of facts. We certainly see that in the modern political sphere. Liberals are apt to criticize Conservatives and Conservatives do the same but neither side regularly critiques their own.
It is an easy trap to fall into. It is our duty to sift through truth, even if we must dig deeper. Truth is often masked in ideology and buzz words these days. The result is large crowds of people believing something just because others who think like them believe the same. We see things through the lens of ideology and emotion more often than we use facts. There is a cultural pressure to believe certain things right now, and those who disagree are branded with harsh labels at minimum. Once again, just because a large amount of people believe something, or pressure others to think the same way, doesn’t make it true. That pressure is transitioning to us creative writers. Our job as authors is not to pander, as I’ve said before. We must tell stories that people can learn and relate to, not become popular through forcing certain tropes.
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.