Updated: Aug 17, 2020
These days, it seems that everyone not only has their preconceived notions… They’re also becoming more and more likely to try shoving those opinions down everyone else’s throats.
Sometimes far too literally.
Obviously, it’s insanely more tragic when that happens through physical violence. But we creative writers – or nonfiction writers – are hardly helping things out when we don’t analyze our own displays of opinion.
No matter how certain we are that those opinions are right. Like it or not, we're much more likely to make more friends and influence people when we give them the time of day.
Bringing up this topic, in writing or outside of them, can bring up plenty of arguments in and of itself. Fortunately, our actual definition of preconceived notions in creative writing – i.e., biases – clarifies a few things about what they are.
The first two of four Dictionary.com definitions are “a particular tendency, trend, inclination, feeling or opinion, especially one that is preconceived or unreasoned” and “unreasonably hostile feelings or opinions about a social group; prejudice.” Both of which sound quite negative.
Biases can be quite negative, of course, but they don’t have to be. And they’re part of who we are regardless, so they’re going to show up in our writing in some way, shape or form. That’s inevitable. It’s only up to us how to deal with them.
We’ll deal with that “dealing with them” in this week’s upcoming posts on the subject. For now though, let’s explore another statement above.
The one about biases being a part of who we are.
When we write realistic, believable main and even some secondary characters, we give them backgrounds. They’re products of their eras, the personalities they were "born" with, the ideologies they grew up with, their surroundings, and so on and so forth.
The reason why those details make for realistic characters is because that’s how reality works. Not a single one of us is born into or otherwise exists in a vacuum. And non-vacuums lead to immediate biases.
Take me for example. I’m the second daughter of three and the second child of four from a still-together half-Italian, half-Scottish family, where both my parents are conservative Christians. For that matter, I’m a conservative Christian, a short girl, a curly-haired brunette, a bookworm with social skills, an introvert who nobody believes is an introvert, engaged, a millennial (albeit an old one), a small business owner, a devoted aunt, and so on and so forth.
In theory, that all makes me every bit as biased as someone who’s the very opposite in birth order, age, background, ethnic heritage, politics, political upbringing, hair color, social interaction preferences and everything else. Or any other combination of factors, for that matter.
Both by nature and nurture, we’re all conditioned to like certain things and dislike others. That kind of diversity can make good things happen when people of differing opinions come together to think things through.
But they have to actually commit to thinking things through.
Or, let's make it more personal: We have to think things through. We need to challenge ourselves to better understand our biases, whether those preconceived notions show up in our creative writing…
Or in regular life. No matter how certain we are that we’ve got it right.
Editor’s Note: Read the next post on bias here.