And what’s that got to do with writing anyway?
One of my writing colleagues recently published an article about prejudice against beauty. What? Who doesn’t like beauty? We all enjoy seeing beautiful things, places, faces. But what we don’t usually consider is how that pretty face makes us feel. Envious? Intimidated? Intrigued? Superior? Before that gorgeous gal utters a single word, have we judged her based on appearance?
Drawing conclusions, positive or negative, and making assumptions about people according to how they look is human nature. If I see a good looking guy driving a fancy-schmancy car, I think he’s rich. But he could be the chauffeur, the son of a rich guy, the boy-toy of an heiress, a car thief . . . who knows? From a young age, we are taught not to judge a book by its cover (or a man by his car), but we can’t help it.
From Science Daily: “Contrary to what most people believe, the tendency to be prejudiced is a form of common sense, hard-wired into the human brain through evolution as an adaptive response to protect our prehistoric ancestors from danger.” Okay then, it’s all about survival. While we’ve come a long way since the caveman days, we cannot ignore our instinct to be wary of those who might harm us, thwart our plans, or get in our way. Stereotypes help us make sense of the world, and we want to be able to look at people and think we know what they’re about.
So what do stereotypes have to do with writing? For starters, it’s one way writers create surprises, twists, and tension. We take preconceived notions and turn them on their heads. The drunk, depressed girl with no life becomes the one who solves the mystery (The Girl on the Train); the nerdy newspaper reporter turns out to be the super-hero (Superman); the ambulance chasing, low-life lawyer is at his core a noble advocate for the truth (The Night Of); the outcast, scrawny dog/wolf steps up to be the leader of the pack (Balto).
As writers, we often give a protagonist prejudices as a way of showing character arc and creating tension. The protagonist must evolve, have a change of heart, or experience a revelation in her quest for whatever it is she desires. And it’s the “will she or won’t she” question that keeps the reader in suspense.
So the next time you draw a conclusion based on nothing more than appearance, don’t feel bad. It’s your inner caveman at work. Just know, you might be wrong . . . then again, you might be right.
Read Mark Fine’s insightful article here: http://www.thefinemaxim.com/are-searchyou-prejudiced-against-beauty/
Would love to know what you think . . . And please follow my blog by entering your email in the box on the main page. Thanks!
I’m sitting in a dark room sandwiched between two old women in wheelchairs. The one on my right is my mom. We are watching An American in Paris. I don’t think I’ve seen it before. Over the last month, my mother’s health and well-being have preoccupied my life. As a writer, I’m not happy to have my writing schedule thrown off track, to miss deadlines, to feel my creativity stifled. However, as a daughter, I am far more distressed to see my mom decline.
As I adjust to my new normal, I find time to write, as I’m doing now, in odd places and situations. In a strange and sweet way, Mom has become my muse. I’m spending more time with her now than I have since I was a child and she was the one who tended me – keeping me safe and fulfilling my needs. The ultimate role-reversal.
Hanging out in a senior home, surrounded by elderly, is both heartbreaking and humorous. If you think kids say the darndest things, try talking to old people. In general, they have no filters – they say whatever comes to mind without regard to appropriateness. The other day at lunch (yes, I eat lunch here on occasion), an old lady said to her friend, “Don’t order dessert, you’re getting fat.” I nearly choked on my orange jello. As it turned out, her friend didn’t hear her, or she pretended not to, or she just didn’t care. She ordered pie a-la-mode and a cookie.
As writers, we are keen observers – every person is a story. I’ve seen countless interactions here – a loving moment between husband and wife; an adult child holding her mother’s hand; a family bringing a new baby to meet Great-Grandpa. I imagine the pasts of these old people, who and what they used to be. The man who worked for the CIA, the woman who raised eight children on her own, the military couple who lived all over the world. I think about the lives they were living decades ago, when they could run and drive and use power tools. The lives they lived before their bodies aged, their minds faded, or illness robbed them of independence.
I’m trying to remember my own mom as the woman she used to be – my mommy, my advocate, my champion. Right now, I can’t, it’s just too hard. But someday I will. She would want that.
Note: I wrote this on August 24, 2016. My beautiful mom passed away six days later. I will be eternally grateful that, almost on a whim, I decided to spend that afternoon with her, watching a movie and holding her hand.
Writers must be brave. When we write, we reveal stuff – what we think, believe, imagine. It took me a long time to get over feeling vulnerable and exposed. Actually, I’m not over it – I’ve just learned to live with it.
As a writer of fiction, I have no choice but to open up my head and spill the contents onto paper, creating stories with a fervor and passion that allow me to let go of my fears. My current work in progress deals with sexual abuse, a subject that is difficult to read and excruciating to write. My readers will judge, infer, and assume things about me when they read it. But I’m okay with that. As writers, we reveal how we think, expose what matters to us, divulge how our brains work and where our imaginations take us. All of that is what makes me the kind of writer I am.
If you want to know me, read my stories. Bits of me are sprinkled throughout every one of them. And if you really want to know me, watch my interview with Chris Williams from “I SHARE HOPE.” We spoke about everything from kids to cooking to how anyone on earth is able to inspire hope in others. His project will renew your faith in people. And it just may change the world.