Hello everyone and welcome to the first ever non-fiction post on this blog! If I actually knew what I was doing there would be confetti or something. In any case, let’s get down to business, shall we?
I recently took a fair few risks in my recently published story “Age” (which can be bought here, if you are so inclined). The first of these was to include quite a lot of cursing in the story. I swear like a sailor in real life, but have only just realized that it can actually be okay to include unsavory language in my fiction, as long as it serves the story (Rule #1 of Fiction Writing: Everything must serve the story). The second risk was to set it in the modern era. I usually prefer medieval/high fantasy settings so this was a pretty big step outside the comfort zone, but it definitely paid off, as such steps often do. The third was submitting it to a magazine at all. Every writer knows the terror of giving their work over to be scrutinized by faceless, nameless editors in a publishing house far far away. But, at least for me, the biggest risk was to include William Shakespeare as not only a presence, but a character in the story.
Granted, he appears only briefly in a single scene, but he still appears, drunk no less. Hardly the most respectful way to portray the Bard. A man whose name is not only synonymous with literary genius, but a man to whom many credit with flat-out inventing most of the modern English we use today. Love him, hate him, or fall asleep during the third act of Romeo and Juliet in English class, if you speak English then chances are you’ve quoted him directly without even knowing it. This is the man who invented the word ‘eyeball’, for crying out loud. So, when I decided to not only portray him as drunk, but put him in a romantic relationship with my main male lead, I was intimidated to say the least.
But then, I stopped. Looked at myself sweating bullets over including a character in my story and realized that I was being ridiculous. Shakespeare was a writer. Arguably the greatest writer of all time. He was a creator and innovator and a genius, but most of all, he was a man. He was a man that lived and loved and wrote such words that he is a household name centuries after his death. But he was a man. With fears and hurts and mistakes. He had no idea that the plays he was writing would exist to bore high school students almost half a millennium after his death. He was just a guy in Elizabethan England just trying to support himself and his family back home doing something he loved. He was no different to any other writer out there. And not only that, but he’s dead. He get’s no say in the matter. Also, it isn’t actually the man himself, but a fictional character that just happens to share a name with a historical person of importance (oh and for all that ‘homosexuality’ stuff mentioned in the title, look here, here and here. They’re the first three Google results. If you’re interested, give them a glance and draw your own conclusions. I’m not here to tell you what to think).
This is what hero worship does to us. We put so much stock in one person’s abilities that we loose the person and only see their abilities. And we do this all the goddamned time. Look at Einstein, or Aristotle, or Leonardo Da Vinci. Or, for that matter, Leonardo Dicaprio. We glorify people and build them up until they become both more and less than human. It’s easier to do this with dead people, with the great minds of eras past. After all, dead people don’t make mistakes. But the outrage every time a celebrity screws up proves just how easy (and fun!) it it to build people up and tear them down in the same breath.
Now, of course, there are many complicated emotional, psychological and probably biological reasons why we do this, but that isn’t the point of this post. The point of this post is that if you do this, as a writer, not only do you shut these people off from being portrayed accurately in your writing, but you limit your perceptions when it comes to others and their experiences. As a writer, it is your job to experience the lives of others without living them yourself. You must have a mind that can step into another person’s head at will, imagine what they are thinking and have those thoughts be different from your own.
But of course, everyone hero worships. Role models are a key part of the way humans learn and develop and through out our lives we always have role models, whether we admit it or not. And it is relatively harmless when applied to dead people. However, hero worshiping people who are alive can severely limit your creativity. A hero is something other, a person who is above all other people, and as such is totally unrelatable. If one person is unrelatable then what’s to stop that whole group of people from becoming unrelatable? From there it can be a pretty slippery slope (this could also be a pretty good description of how prejudice can build. Two sides, one coin).
If you view a person, any person as ‘other’ as ‘them’, whether positively or negatively then you are limiting the range of human experience you can access to aid your writing. Everything must serve the story, remember? If your prejudices, whether you are biased towards or against this person or group of people, interfere with your ability to write a realistic and fulfilling story then you need to re-examine your views on the world around you. On the people you look up to and look down on and understand them. No matter how different you think they are, we’re all just walking, talking monkeys who have somehow managed to take this whole ‘thinking’ business to another level. Remember that. Use it. Serve your story. All the world’s a stage.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the story of how I stopped hero worshiping Shakespeare. If you want to check out the story that sparked this whole train of thought then click the link way up there at the beginning. If that’s just too much scrolling then here it is again. And once again just because I feel like being annoying.
Hope you enjoyed this post. If it was a useless pile of rambling waffle, then feel free to shout at me in the comments.
Happy reading, writing and whatever else!