Sunday, February 27, 2011

Need to Believe

Humans want to believe certain things about their world and about themselves. We often know these things aren’t completely true but we’d like to think so. For example, we’d like to believe that good triumphs over evil. We’d like to think the little guy can beat the big guy. We’d like to know that justice will be done. We’d like to think there is someone for everyone. We’d like to think that our special qualities will be recognized and appreciated.

These beliefs are important to us, and we seek out fictions that reinforce them. We watch movies where the good guys win. We read novels where true love triumphs. We root for the underdog. Just consider movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Pretty Woman, and Rocky. Or The Matrix, Bridget Jones’s Diary, and Rudy. Or many, many others. Consider books such as Misery, The Odyssey, and The Lord of the Rings.

We writers have the same kinds of beliefs, and I’ll bet if you analyze your own writing you’ll see these themes showing up in your work. Of course, not everyone wants exactly the same things from their fiction. Nor do they want them presented in exactly the same way. But it’s rather hard to go wrong with good guys and underdogs winning, and with characters finding love.

It's also hard to go wrong with characters who discover something special about or within themselves, as in the Harry Potter and Twilight series. It's hard to go wrong when you give people an insider's view of a profession or a lifestyle they find fascinating.

In other words, it's hard to go wrong if you really find out what readers want to believe and experience and give them fictions that reinforce those beliefs.

Think about it.

I do.

17 comments:

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Oh, it's all got to do with God, God vs Evil.God is probably Mother, and Mother Wit in literature starts all the way back in the Odyssey with the goddess Pallas Athena. She guides Odesseus.
Mother is wise... Certainly even Bambi's mother.
We like to think, as writers, that we are God' spies, and we probably are, because of the wit that comes from mother...That's, of course, unless she had been twisted and something of a bitch, as in the case of the philosopher Schopenhauer who wrote quite often on the horrors of womankind.

But I think it's all about God-Mother, Freud be hanged.

Charles Gramlich said...

I'm definitely no Freudian. I'm really more of an evolutionary psychologist so I often look at common beliefs as being influenced by evolution in a social environment.

Lana Gramlich said...

This is true, but as I child I wanted nothing more than to see Wile E. Coyote catch the Roadrunner--just once! I even daydreamed about it.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I'll admit I'm disappointed when evil wins. I want good to win. In my own work though, I don't focus so much on good vs. evil as the growth of the character, but it's always for the best.

laughingwolf said...

when you already believe 'good' will triumph at some point in a tale, kinda hard to be 'real', knowing 'good' actually does so in less than half of circumstances...

i'm with lana, w.e.c. should have caught the bird... but then, there could be no future coyote/roadrunner
toons... even introducing another roadrunner would not work, since folks are already used to this one

Charles Gramlich said...

Lana, the coyote was the underdog.

Alex, it depends on the genre. With fantasy I like good versus evil. For more realistic fiction that doesn't quite work.

Laughingwolf, for good to win it has to be really tough, and these days I always feel good should lose some things along the way. THta's why Cain Duplessis died in cold in the light. For good to win it has to suffer.

BernardL said...

I've always believed most writers write because they can create a world where good does triumph and bad guys get theirs and a good deed does go unpunished - in other words: fiction. I know I do. :)

Ron Scheer said...

I don't disagree. But there's something gleeful about stories where bad guys get away with something or elude getting caught. Readers and movie-goers love outlaws.

O'Neil De Noux said...

And yet another reason that sex sells (in fiction).

Erik Donald France said...

Great stuff! I tend to like it in fictions/movies where "good" (complacency) is roiled and the reader/viewer gets splashed with icy cold water :->

"It's hard to go wrong when you give people an insider's view of a profession or a lifestyle they find fascinating." -- Amen!

Charles Gramlich said...

BernardL, That is definitely a reason why I write, so I can make things come out the way I want them to and the way I feel they SHOULD come out.

Ron Scheer, There's a whole nother fantasy that I didn't mention here but which I've talked about before, the "crime pays" think. A lot of us wish we had the guts to break conventions and do as we willed. it might have something to do with the "I'm special" kind of plot line.

O'Neil De Noux, the collection I'm going to have coming out this year will have LOTS of sex in it. Let's hope it sells.

Erik Donald France, those of us with more experience reading and watching things like more twists. Young folks still like the old standbyes more, I think.

Liane Spicer said...

I agree. Works for genre fiction, not so much for other kinds where the writer must keep it real, hence the exploration of paradox and ambivalence and shades of grey in mainstream and literary fiction.

@Ron Sheer:
Readers and movie-goers do love antiheroes - once they're cute con-artists, lovable thieves, smart embezzlers. I haven't come across stories where anyone is required to root for rapists, child molesters or cold blooded murderers of the innocent. For an outlaw to win over the audience/reader he has to do bad stuff to outlaws much, much worse than he is.

Charles Gramlich said...

Liane, I suspect many of the same elements apply to literary fiction but they cannot be applied boldly. The effect generaly has to be more subtle

the walking man said...

Dunno Charles I just write about my passions. Fighting just happens to be one of them for a very long time.

I never believed in the myth of love conquers all and the good will triumph but it sure as hell is nice when it happens in reality and somehow a piece of writing no matter by who helped to inspire or change the mind of the human who beat the odds.

Charles Gramlich said...

I think many of us don't literally believe certain things are likely to happen in real life and that is one thing that attracts us to fiction. I think that's certainly true for me and the idea of "justice."

jennifer said...

type type type... backspace backspace backspace.... that is usually what happens to me when I read a thought provoking post. This was a thought provoking post.

Charles Gramlich said...

Thank you, Jennifer. Glad you enjoyed.