Know Thyself

Writer, you are in your words

A written work, like all art, exposes the worldview of its creator. Unfortunately, most writers do not understand the origins of their opinions. People rarely need to explain their opinions to others, much less defend them.

The Basics

Some opinions do not require a defense. These opinions concern minor issues; they do not affect one’s world. These opinions influence writing, however.

Complete the “What I Like” worksheet at the end of this guide.

What a writer likes and dislikes as an individual enters into his or her works. Favorite colors, music, foods, locations, et cetera tend to be attributed to favorite characters, regardless a character’s role. A writer’s dislikes become the likes of disfavored characters.

People are attracted to those similar to themselves. Segregation along interest lines occurs naturally in social settings. Likewise, readers and writers are attracted to characters with traits they find acceptable.

Opposites also fascinate people. Readers and writers often like antagonists with no similarities to themselves. Sociopaths, traitors, and forms of pure evil are interesting.

Difficult Questions

Revealing a favorite color or food is easy; these are not the origins of many debates or wars. Answers to the difficult questions make people interesting. These are the questions of values and beliefs, prejudices and biases.

When we discuss these four aspects of a person, we do so as writers and artists. These are literary terms, not necessarily the definitions used in other fields of study or in common discourse.

Values and Beliefs

Values and beliefs are fluid, changing with situations and throughout your lifetime. We tend to be more aware of our values and beliefs than of our prejudices.

Value System

A value is the rank or order of importance you assign to a set of things or concepts.

Dictionary definition: A judgment of the relative importance a person, thing, or concept has in relation to one’s life.

Rightly or not, humans tend to place a higher value on things with which they have a personal bond. As evidence, many people will save pictures and pets from a fire before they remember to wake their neighbors. Situations alter our values.

Subjective Beliefs

A belief is an opinion that cannot be supported by facts, a matter of faith or preference.

Dictionary definition: A conviction that something is real or superior with or without certainty; a supposition.

We might like to think that our beliefs are “strongly held,” but in truth they are quite fluid. As extreme examples, some people experience religious conversions, while others drift from their faiths.

Most beliefs are not religious in nature; they are of a less cosmic nature. Political beliefs, for example, change based upon experiences.

Prejudices and Biases

Prejudices and biases are strong, usually reinforcing each other via a “feedback loop.” We tend to read and watch materials supporting our prejudices.

Learned Prejudices

A prejudice is a judgment based upon information, correct or not. To act in a prejudice manner is to pre-judge using past knowledge or experiences.

Dictionary definition: A judgment, usually unfavorable, formed beforehand, due to a fixed idea, especially without complete data.

A prejudice can be reasonable, such as distrusting a former cat burglar who now offers herself as a security expert. Most prejudices are more difficult to defend.

Input Biases

Your bias is what or whom you trust as an accurate source of information; sometimes called an input bias.

Dictionary definition: A strong leaning or propensity against or in favor of someone or something; to distrust or trust.

We surround ourselves with media and people supporting our prejudices. The words and images presented to us reinforce our views, for better or worse.

Basic Likes and Dislikes

What I Like

Colors:

Foods:

Musician / Composer:

Song / Composition:

Movie:

Celebrity:

Place:

Hobby:

What I Dislike

Colors:

Foods:

Music:

Movies:

Celebrity:

Place:

Activity:

The Difficult Questions

The following topics encourage you to evaluate your worldview. You might use these topics to begin a journal, or you might answer them annually to examine changes in your views.

Religious and spiritual beliefs

Is there a “soul” or afterlife?

Abortion, the death penalty, and euthanasia, and how they relate

How I relate science and faith

Things I would not do, even for a friend

The most “principled stand” I have taken

Dating and marriage

Sex and relationships

My political affiliation, explained

The last possession I would surrender

What I read and trust

The last lie I told

The laws I break or have broken

What I’d really do if I won $1 million

Several books are available with questions examining your views. We suggest buying one and answering a question or two every week. One popular series is If…


Sources

Bickham, Jack M. 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes, The. Cincinnati: Writer's Digest Books, 1992. (ISBN: 0898798213)

Fletcher, Ralph J. A Writer’s Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You. New York: Avon Books, 1996. (ISBN: 0380784300)

Polking, Kirk ed. Beginning Writer’s Answer Book. Cincinnati: Writer's Digest, 1994. (ISBN: 0898795990)

Rozakis, Laurie E. Creative Writing. Complete Idiot's Guide to, The. New York: Simon & Schuster, Alpha Books, 1997. (ISBN: 0028617347)



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Writer: C. S. Wyatt
Updated: 27-May-2014
Editor: S. D. Schnelbach