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A personal realization about why I keep writing the same kind of story

Discussion in 'Chit Chat' started by Feo Takahari, Jan 10, 2014.

  1. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

    I'm starting to realize that I've ritualized my bad memories, repackaging them into a repeated story and message. I feel like I need to compile this to better understand it, and as long as it's compiled, I might as well post it. Maybe other writers will understand it.

    As a caveat, this started when I was six years old. I didn't understand much of it at the time, only being told about it later by my mother. It's possible I've gotten some of this wrong.

    To understand the situation at my elementary school, you need to understand three people, the first being Steve, who ran the school. In theory, it was a school for the gifted, only allowing in high-IQ students. In practice, it was located in a rich community, and some families made very, very generous contributions to the school. They expected the school to serve them as they wished, and for the most part, it did.

    From an excellent elementary and middle school, their children were to go on to an excellent high school, and for that, they needed excellent recommendations from Steve. Steve would happily give recommendations to anyone who'd proven to be a good student. Those weren't necessarily the students whose parents were making contributions, no matter how loudly those parents yelled.

    And so the rumor began to spread. Steve was terrorizing students! Steve yelled at little girls and made them cry! Steve was far too unstable to run the school! None of these supposed incidents were ever substantiated, but the school board had Steve thrown out of his ear, replaced with someone more amenable to the parents' demands. The school divided along rigid lines, with some parents happy he was gone, some furious at his removal, and both sides so furious they wouldn't even speak to each other. Most of the teachers quit, replaced with inexperienced new hires who didn't really know what they were doing. In short, the school was in a time of chaos, and a troubled student could easily slip through the cracks.

    The second person I need to explain is Colton, a fellow student. I never did learn what his parents did for a living, but they were apparently loaded, and they donated generously. They were also gone for weeks at a time, and no one seemed to know who took care of Colton while they were gone. He passed his time in various forms of petty sadism, searching for his classmates' weakest points and metaphorically jabbing them over and over. The homeroom teacher, Marilyn, seemed reluctant to punish him--I think she was afraid that if his parents were ever around to learn that he'd been punished, they might end the donations. She needed something to keep him under control.

    The third person is me. My great-grandmother was adopted by Mexicans, and my mother was largely raised by my great-grandmother. She raised me in what she says is the Mexican style, which is emphatically not the style in which most of my fellow students were raised. I was allowed in after topping out on the entrance exams, but I had no idea how to act in the manner considered socially appropriate there--I was simply too literal. (For instance, if Marilyn asked "Would you like to pick your jacket up off the floor?", I would respond "No," because that was the answer to the question. Unlike my peers, I had no frame of reference to comprehend the idea that a question could be a command.) My fellow students thought I was a weirdo, Marilyn concluded that I must be a defiant brat whose parents had spoiled him rotten, and Colton saw me as different enough to be worth targeting.

    I don't think Marilyn ever sat down with Colton and told him I was an acceptable target. But I do think he started to recognize that if he bullied me, and only me, I would always be the one who got in trouble afterwards. And after a while, students who weren't normally bullies tried bullying me as well, and found that they didn't get in trouble, either. Whenever anyone was in a bad mood, and they needed to let it out somehow, there was a target they could make use of at any time without penalty.

    I remained a target for years, even after I left Marilyn's class. When I finally left that school, I went straight into therapy. I still tense up whenever anyone touches me.

    I'm starting to recognize that there's a pattern that often shows up in my stories. There's a group, and that group is largely happy. But a shadow hangs over it, a blighting force that in some way weakens the group. The group doesn't care, because the blight focuses most on a single individual--the outcast. The outcast is marked, known to be different from the rest of the group, and the group enjoys helping the blight add to the outcast's suffering. Yet the outcast is forever kind and hopeful, wishing for nothing more than to escape the blight and be accepted by the group.

    In my stories, the outcast tends to win. The blight is defeated, and the group is no longer shadowed. The outcast may still be marked, but he or she is on a path to recovery, and maybe even acceptance. After all, it wouldn't be good art if the outcast lost, would it? It wouldn't be what readers wanted. And it wouldn't be what I wished for.

    I don't know what this means for my writing. I'm proud of some of the stories I wrote this way, so does that mean I should keep writing them? But on the other hand, is it really still helping me to keep writing about the same trauma? If I hadn't gone to that school, what might I have written instead, and might it have been better? Or would I not have written at all?

    I don't even know what I'm saying at this point, and I'm not sure if anyone else cares. Who else has noticed this in their writing? Who else keeps writing about something they can't completely forget?
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2014
    buyjupiter likes this.
  2. buyjupiter

    buyjupiter Maester

    I was going to be flip and suggest that if it's worked for Woody Allen...but that's not fair to you. I think writing about trauma, in whatever fashion you do it, is going to be helpful/harmful depending on where you are at with dealing with the after effects. If it's only causing a massive ball of rage to grow inside you, it's harmful. If it's getting you to grow as a person then keep doing it 'til it doesn't work for you. I think you'll have to be very self-aware about that and check in with yourself from time to time about it, but I think writers should be self-aware to start with.

    As for the better/different choice, why see it that way? From my experiences sitting around thinking "if only x hadn't happened, I wouldn't be so weird", it only leads to dissatisfaction and anger and depression. Which can be a good/bad place to end up. If it forces you to change, good. But if not...well, anger and depression and dissatisfaction only fuel you so much.

    I have character archetypes that I return to time and again. I love the femme fatale and the bad a** woman who could kick your butt. Two types of women that are pretty much polar opposites of me. I'm such a goody two-shoes most of the time that you'd doubt I could kick a dandelion's butt, and as far as the other part goes? I'm as subtle as a hammer, which I've been informed is not sexy. *shrug*

    I will say this: the number of outcast stories I read while I was going through being bullied in school? I can't remember how many I read, but it was a lot. I loved the idea that the bullies eventually get their comeuppance. I loved the idea of the weaker, nicer person becoming strong (however that is defined). I loved knowing that it had an end, even if I couldn't see it at the time. Reading those stories, heck making friends with those characters because I was such an outcast at school, probably saved my life any number of times. You know all the stories you read about bullying and teen suicides and such? If I wasn't writing/reading through the bad times, I probably wouldn't have made it. I could stick my nose in a book and ignore everything going on around me. I could walk and read a book at the same time, so if someone followed me around the school yard I could keep reading Redwallor Wrinkle in Time.

    There is a market for it. There are other kids out there that need these stories, so I don't think there's anything wrong with continuing to write them. However, maybe you can stretch out of it a bit by making yourself write one differently archetyped story for every three/four that you do with an outcast?

    I hope that any of the above is helpful. If you ever need to talk to someone, feel free to PM me.
  3. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

    I think everyone has these kind of patterns in their stories. It goes back to that "write what you know" kind of deal. I tend to write lots of stories with hunters of some kind in them. Just for whatever reason at a young age I became obsessed with characters like Boba Fett, The Man with No Name (Clint Eastwood Westerns), and Vampire Hunter D. Not sure what attracted me to these types of characters, but I guess in some way I always wanted to be weird or different. To live my life protecting or helping others, but still being perceived as some kind of badass also. This has seeped over into a lot of my writing. I feel like if I write several of these kinds of characters, it's not necessarily hurting me. I look at it as "my phase" the same way artists go through phases when they paint similar things over and over.

    That said, perhaps writing non-fiction about your experience may get it out of your system, if that's something you're concerned about when it comes to growth. I personally don't see a problem with writing lots of similar stories if that is what is working for you. However, if readers start to say, "He or she writes the same story over and over again," then maybe then it's time to re-evaluate what you're doing.
    Feo Takahari likes this.
  4. Amanita

    Amanita Maester

    Well, I don't know if that's the kind of answer you're looking for but I definitely do think that this could make for a very intriguing story with many option to add the paranormal/fantastical elements as well as mystery and suspense. In fantasy, there are many ways to move it out of the school setting and into a magical society, court etc. where the situation could have large scale ramifications. (Maybe the outcast wouldn't always be "kind and hopeful" but actually discover something the group wants to keep secret...)
    Generally, I think it's perfectly normal that writing is influenced by life experience and some might be the actual reason for someone to start writing. I also think that people inclined to writing are often different in a way other children can't understand which may result in bullying. Happened to me as well but mainly at primary school age and I don't feel like including it directly but I do have some specific characters that turn up again and again and intrigue me most in stories I read as well. My writing often involves the "teenager discovers special ability which causes trouble at first but is good in the long run"-plotline for reasons I'm not sure about.
  5. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

    Hi. First off, your story is sad. It sucks to have a hard childhood. I know, because I did, too. I've suffered more than most, and there's no real reason for it. Sometimes you just get stuck as the outsider because your family moved and now you're the "new kid".

    Point is, you have a perspective and it's your own. It gives you a reason to thank the powers that be, that you were strong enough to survive, if for no other reason than to channel your shame/ hate/ gloom/ passion, into art. I feel that way every time I consider what I made it through and the friends I had who didn't.

    Also, many people feel the same, whether they have a valid reason to or not. Many people dramatize a sort of half-unpleasant life, turning themselves into victims of some great unfairness, but who cares? They'll relate to your pain because they see themselves as that outsider, too. I think about that every time I tear a character apart, dashing their hopes and dreams and bringing them to the brink of mental collapse. I think... Hey, I made it back from there. Chin up... you can, too! And I write them a solution, usually in the form of a friendly voice of reason or encouragement or a moment of silent reflection and willpower. Because those are the things that have gotten me out of some bad spots.

    I used to hurt myself, any way I could. I think it largely stemmed from control issues and the fact that I never got to make a decision for myself. The self-abuse took many forms, but every one of them has enriched my writing. Consider the unique perspective I alone have and the clear memories that allow me to share those thoughts with a reader like someone inventing details could not imagine. I think it's always obvious to me when a writer is drowning in his trousers, having selected something too big for him to execute well. It sounds like your unique perspective will make for a very convincing "outsider" one who will grip the reader and pull at their heartstrings. I'd run with it.

    However, I wrote two books that overlap in theme in a way I'm not sure about. In book 7 & 8, I have a male MC who gets romantically involved with a female MC. In both books, the men desire a child. In the first one, the woman was raped by someone else and the man who falls for her begins planning to raise a child that isn't his. The woman blows her top and insists she isn't pregnant and he's sort of silent. She realizes how much it meant to him, making plans for the future. In the second story, the male and female MCs meet and have a whirlwind romance early in the story. They run into serious trouble and their lives are very much in danger. After a flight from peril, she's wounded severely and he helps to heal her and stays by her side while she's recovering. He has reasons to suspect she's pregnant and tells her, but she insists he has no obligation to her, even if it were so. Later in the story, we find out how much it meant to him, because his wife and son were killed years before, and the wife was only able to give him the one child, in 11 years. So to him, a baby meant so much.

    None of my other stories have a similar theme, it was just sort of how these worked out. Problem is... I love them the way they are and I can't change the order of the stories. Is it kinda tedious reading two stories that sort of have similar themes? I don't know. I think you have to find a place where you feel comfortable drawing the line. One of the things that I didn't realize inspired me so much, was that my husband is just the best father in the world. Our third child wasn't planned and came at a really bad time, when we were making huge changes, financially and personally, and didn't know whether we'd make it as a couple. I actually asked whether it was alright or whether we just couldn't have a baby then. He stared at me and smiled and said, "Babies are never mistakes."

    When I see his personality in the male leads, I just sort of smile to myself and think there are worse people upon which I could base my characters.

    I think your concepts of a group and then an outsider, is a good one and one many people will relate to. Like I said, rightly or wrongly, people almost always see themselves as that outsider. It's certainly less risky than what I did, leaning toward male MCs who desire to be fathers more than is probably reasonable.

    Best wishes.
    Feo Takahari likes this.
  6. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

    Romantic subplots keep popping up in my unfinished stories. Typically they occur between a male warrior who's visiting another country and a beautiful local lady who's usually royalty (either the queen herself or the heir apparent) and a warrior too. This almost certainly reflects my unrequited real-world desire for female companionship. I've never managed to get a girlfriend in my offline life due to being an obese social retard, so I have only my fantasies to turn to.

    There is a particular type of plotline that does appeal to me since I can relate to it, but I've hesitated to incorporate it into a story. It's the plotline about a guy who starts out an outcast and later earns his way to acceptance using special talents or skills. Disney's retelling of the Hercules myth is one example of this. I like this kind of narrative since I've always suffered from an inferiority complex due to my Asperger's and have wanted to compensate for it. On the other hand I haven't figured out how to tell this kind of story without sounding trite or predictable, so I haven't used it in many projects yet.

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