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Pushing a Barrow?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by The Dark One, Apr 5, 2020.

  1. The Dark One

    The Dark One Archmage

    As a passionate 20yo, everything I did artistically (mainly music in those days) was about inflicting my world view on people.

    Looking back on that I see a ham fisted young man shouting at the world about what was wrong and how to fix it.

    No-one listened.

    I was reflecting recently on how wrong-headed, immature and unrealistic I'd been as a youngster, and how much more sophisticated and well-informed my views were these days. In fact, a favourite saying of mine is that, if the person I was at 20 were to have an argument with the person I am today...the person I was at 20 would win the argument, but the person I am today would be right.

    But the more I thought about it, and the more I considered my work that has, in fact, been commercially published, it occurred to me that I haven't really changed.

    I am still pushing a whole bunch of social justice barrows in everything I do, it's just that they're not so ham fisted and obvious.

    So, just like that arrogant, didactic, single-minded scumbag I was at twenty, I'm still trying to change the world, it's just that I've learned to do it more subtly and palatably. I don't scream the answer at people, I set up situations in my novels and let the politics happen in the brains of the readers as they deal with the antics of my characters. I let the readers come up with their own answers.

    The message hasn't really changed, just the way it's delivered.

    So what about you?

    Are you pushing a barrow?

    If yes, how much of that is the reason you're a writer?
    Night Gardener likes this.
  2. Slartibartfast

    Slartibartfast Scribe

    I remember being told as a younger man that I should start my own business before I grew up and stopped knowing everything.
    A need to rant is certainly one of the reasons I write a lot, in fact now that I'm on lockdown I have spent the last few weeks finishing non-fiction book which has a lot of my own views in it - not even remotely disguised, it's the point of the piece. I've also worked in training and L&D for a while now and I write a lot for work and most of this is about changing people's behaviour or outlook through persuasion (hopefully not as Orwellian as it sounds).

    The reason I'm here on MS and the reason I'm tinkering with the idea of moving the bulk of my personal writing to fantasy is that I actually want a break from, as you put it, pushing a barrow. Regardless of what I'm doing I have the same needs as anyone else - entertaining, getting my own views heard, influencing people, being well thought of, making changes to my little world. I think for me, at least, writing is a big part of my life so of course I will use it to serve these needs. I don't know whether having these needs is what drove me towards writing specifically or whether a non-writer version of me would have just looked to meet them through some other activity. Right now though the need for a bit of balance away from barrow pushing is what's driving my current writing direction.
  3. Insolent Lad

    Insolent Lad Inkling

    If I had no opinions I certainly would not write. But I do not write to express my opinions; I prefer to tell a story and allow the opinions to color it. That is, I never write with the intention of 'saying something.' But, of course, I do end up saying all sorts of things! As a youngster, I loved the way E.R. Burroughs would slip his sly and frequently humorous asides on society into his adventure stories. Never mind that he was horribly reactionary and frequently racist. Its an approach I still attempt to emulate today.
  4. Kasper Hviid

    Kasper Hviid Troubadour

    I'm pretty pushy myself. To me, the social-justice stuff is simply a part of solid world-building. If your world has more than one gender, and literally has different races in it, then it would be fake to ignore the social mechanics. To me, it's not as much that I push it into the story, as that I cannot imagine my story without.
    I think I have gotten a better idea of various hacks that makes the message part work along with the story, I don't think it's especially hard, but just like setting, plot, etc, it's a craft that you need to understand.
  5. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    I don't think about as I'm writing. I do tend to find themes in my stories after they've been written.

    In worldbuilding, my background as a historian comes into play. So I look hard at making sure my various societies work internally and in their external relations with each other. If there's a barrow there, it's mainly along the lines of historical verisimilitude. Which can be difficult with non-humans, since our sources on gnome history are pretty thin. <g>

    I certainly had plenty of barrows to push as a youngster growing up in the 60s, and a young adult in the 70s. Changing the world was the only meaningful form of human activity. Ah, but I was so much older then. I'm younger than that now.
  6. The Dark One

    The Dark One Archmage

    I don't set out to push barrows, of course. It's just part of who I am, and like Skip I tend to read back over my stuff and suddenly think: Wow! I see what I did there...
    Night Gardener likes this.
  7. Night Gardener

    Night Gardener Inkling

    I never set out to be a political person, but very quickly realized that ultimately everything is political: In life, my art, or in my writing. Politics are absolutely inescapable. "Neither to serve, nor to rule, but to be the master of one's own self." And I'll add: 'And be left the f#%k alone to do as I need and want so long as I physically harm none.' You'd think that would be a reasonable and quiet philosophy, but evidently no. In theory yes, but not in practice.

    I can say with some relief that while current reality feels like we've spun out into an episode of the Twilight Zone, or that we've been sucked into a Stephen King novel, that I feel slightly less insane now that other people *are* actually talking about things I observed as a very, very young person. It wasn't just me. Those observations and my conclusions have not changed all that much since childhood, but now I have the 'sophisticated' adult understandings of the explanations of science: psychology, biology, neurobiology, sociology, theology, political and economic theory etc. But my very, very young self sensed intuitively that this world is deeply f%$ked up and totally absurd.
    ( Adults used to always say "She's so quiet. So thoughtful," or "She's such an old soul." Which I guess is the socially acceptable thing to say instead of "oh, she's maybe 8? 9? and her brain has already stopped making serotonin and dopamine." )

    I don't overload barrows in real life because I thoroughly believe in working smarter, not harder. Why would writing fiction work any differently? Why am I bothering to move this? And if it is worth moving, it is also worth not breaking myself to do it. Eventually, whatever it is will get to where it needs to go to be used for whatever it is intended. But, logistically, plan out for efficiency and be adaptable to better ideas. And use better tools and equipment! As someone compelled to literally move tons of material by hand, I take this barrow metaphor very seriously.

    I have certain themes, daresay socio-political, existential and philosophical ideas I'm working with that are from my box of "deep thoughts". Some people may find them interesting. Or inspiring. Or horrifying. More than one thing can be true at the same time, right? And if people want to break out their own political crayon box to color in their pictures from my narrative as they see it, so be it. Go outside the lines, eat a crayon, get a papercut, weaponize the built-in crayon sharpener. I don't care. It's a free-thought exercise. If it helps them develop their own deep thoughts to think, fine.

    I'm not going to take readers by the hand for a carefully appointed, curated, and spelled-out tour of the perceived "social commentary" in my WIP. Nope. This is going to be a jigsaw puzzle with no border edge pieces and no reference photos. And you can make whatever images you want from the pieces. It's not that I couldn't guide readers, but ….why bother? So I can carefully say "this is about ' x,' " and readers can argue "No! It's actually '+'. *sigh* Whatever. They're going to "get" whatever they want to get from it, see what they want to see, and they can come up with it all on their own. It's a rorschach test. And whatever they come up with, they'll (probably) be right.
    The Dark One likes this.
  8. The Dark One

    The Dark One Archmage

    Unless they proclaim it as a new bible for the Klan?
    Night Gardener likes this.
  9. Night Gardener

    Night Gardener Inkling

    As a thought exercise, it'll be interesting to see what will "emerge from the dark room" so to speak, but yes: if that is the kind of "oh hell no" that develops from my work, I'll be the first to say "Nope. Wrong. Not what I was going for *at all*. Nope, nope nope. All the nopes."
  10. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    No. Because I don’t know how to fix the world, and neither does anybody else... or maybe that would be my barrow, heh heh. I explore lots of things, and different characters have different points of view. No doubt people will read all kinds of stuff into my writing (much of it contradictory) and I have lots of fun imagining how various thinkers will react due to their underlying philosophies and beliefs.

    Most “literary” writers are crap because they’re preachers, subtle or not.
  11. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    Solaria, the primary nation of my primary world, is, at the time of the stories, emerging from a devastating war that ended in a near Pyrrhic victory. Even that 'win' required a major shift in 'the way things are done.' And now, despite 'determined to the point of insane' efforts by the traditionalists, things simply cannot go back to the 'way they were' - too much was broken.

    Long suppressed inventions like printing presses and bicycles are causing revolutions in education and transportation. Serfs are forming crude proto 'labor unions.' Most of a million discharged soldiers, mostly from the lower classes (Solaria being one notch shy of a caste system) were given land and citizenship in lieu of pay, increasing the so called 'middle class' by a factor of five almost overnight. Once prosperous aristocratic families are finding themselves in severe financial straits, sometimes losing everything but their titles. All these elements and more play into my tales, especially the 'Empire' series.

    Past few years, in spare moments, I have been working on another setting - actually several casually linked settings. The first of these is a sort of 'recovering post apocalyptic' version of our world, set 'forty years from now.' (or maybe fifty years from now - that's fluid). It is a world of failed governments and corporations that are effectively nations in their own rights, a world of labor camps operating under detested emergency laws, rigged elections, massive paranormal activity 'just out of sight,' and space travel.
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