Writing & Outlooks


I’ve been working with a writing group in the Denver area, mostly just to get to know people but also because it can be beneficial to bounce ideas off of people.  That really only works if you think they have anything to offer in terms of guidance or wisdom, and I find I’m often in disagreement with them on many aspects of writing … however I also wonder if it reflects a wider disagreement between me and the rest of the world.

I’ve had problems with the concept of world building in writing, although I seem to be in the minority in that regard.  A lot of people seem to really enjoy plots coming to a complete standstill in favor basically reading a travelogue about largely irrelevant minutia in the world of, say, Westeros because, gosh, it just makes everything seem so real to them.

Maybe I’ve read too much in my life, but I can tell when the author is wasting my time and the editor failed to do their job.  That kind of stuff irks me.

But it almost seems to be a goal for writers these days. Among the things I’ve heard in the writing group was how much they value building backstory.  Does the main character have siblings? What kind of school did he or she go to? When did they lose their virginity?

When I dared to ask “if those things don’t come up in the story, why does it matter?” the response I got was “how can you know the character without knowing their past?”

This isn’t an altogether new outlook on life.  Even in recent cinema, I’ve seen it brought up … in a children’s movie.  Which? Well there’s Pixar’s lesser-loved (yet highly successful) movie, Cars, where the character of ‘Mater insists “Ain’t no need to watch where I’m goin’; just need to know where I’ve been,” in regards to being able to drive backwards (with an obvious metaphor to living life.)  Stupid analogy?  Well, how about the newly pervasive commercials for Ancestry.com, which feature supposedly real customers marveling at their family tree and attributing every aspect of their life to coincidences in their family history.  “Oh, my immigrant great grandmother owned a business, I guess that’s where my sense of entrepreneurship comes from!”  Which of course raises the issue of, if your entrepreneurship simply had to come from elsewhere, then where did the great grandmother get hers? Why would it be so horrible for you to have taken initiative of your own accord, rather than attribute it to relative you may never have met?

Also, genetics don’t really work that way, idiots. Otherwise language would be genetic (and boy, do I have a hard time convincing the world that it isn’t.)

Is this a thing, where people feel it’s impossible for anyone not to be indelibly tied to their past?  I suppose this explains the constant hangup of superheroes and their origin stories (necessitating constant retellings and tweaks to their past, rather than just letting them move on.)  What’s funny is that almost anyone would say that one should learn from the past but not dwell on it.  It’s a constant struggle I have to keep from being crushed under the weight of my on history, but apparently everyone in the world would feel that I–and anyone–ought to be crushed because, after all, how can you be anything other than your past?


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