Today I welcome writer Aurora Elestren onto my blog, who shares her advice on how to write personal values in a meaningful way. Enjoy!
Big thanks to Aurora for being today’s guest poster, please make sure to check out her links and details at the end of this post.
Often we like to wear our societal and cultural labels on our sleeves. We use them to identify ourselves both externally and internally.
But what happens with that identity when a person becomes a writer? How should one project themselves within their work without coming off as a preachy snob?
Most often a writer will communicate himself through the protagonist – the good one, the hero, someone to look up to or to empathize with.
Some protagonists can be morally grey or yellow or the whole rainbow, but if they live to experience a happy ending, the values the author assumes to be superior will prevail.
For example, in the “Way of Kings” by Brandon Sanderson, the author shows us how, despite hardships and trials, his characters are rewarded for being honest, smart and kind.
They stumble and fall just as we all do, however in the end, it is clear to the readers, which path is right.
A less modern example coming to mind is “Crime and punishment” by Fyodor Dostoevsky, exploring the moral struggles of a murderer.
The author does not sugarcoat the titular crime or the consequences of it, while still making us sympathize with his protagonist in ways we have not expected.
Despite lacking in the pacing department, this novel makes readers ask themselves many uncomfortable questions and seek the answers on their own.
Moving on to my own experience on the topic, let me tell you how I worked out the way to communicate my views in my writing. In my WIP novel “Ansonia”, I tackle a lot of real-world issues – both through my characters and worldbuilding.
Racism and culturalism are probably the most prevalent, with the premise of the novel being how humanity became a part of something much bigger than itself.
All sorts of aliens are now sharing a planet we have come to believe we alone possess, and the effect of such change on humanity cannot be brushed off.
As an inspiration, I took to heart the popular sentiment about how humans will always remain divided among themselves until we can find a different species to call our enemy.
Also, I came up with many interesting ideas by observing the current cultural phenomena of conspiracy theorists. Their morals can be bizarre and offensive to some, but they taught me a valuable lesson about antagonists:
There is always a different opinion.
Sonia, my main character, is very stubborn and unable to see nuance in her convictions. To her, the lynchings of alien visitors to Earth in dark alleys are acts of pure evil, impossible to justify. She is acting out of sympathy, tolerance and a strong sense of justice.
However, her direct opponent, Taras, is also convinced that his acts are justice. To him, aliens are invaders, taking over his home, and he is the noble guerilla leader, trying to open the eyes of oblivious bystanders. He believes only his worldview is the right one, just like Sonia.
I went out of my way to make sure the antagonist reads like a real person, and his beliefs are actually justified.
This way, when readers are exploring the central conflict, they won’t feel forced to take the protagonist’s (and the author’s) side, but rather to make their own judgments. Nobody likes to be spoon-fed morals, just like nobody is born evil.
The most fun thing you can do is to come up with all sorts of in-world conspiracy theories for your antagonistic forces to use. They are both fascinating and terrifying, giving you a lot of moral goalposts to move around.
Use things you are passionate about in real life and flip them around. Explore actual social movements that oppose your values. Maybe try to do some research, talking to people who hate your guts.
Even if it goes terribly wrong, you can still get a couple of creative insults out of the experience!
I was never particularly religious, but the theme fascinated me since childhood, so I used it to construct actual religious fanatics opposing my main character’s ideals.
Even at their darkest, they retain some humanity, so as to not forget the place they are coming from with their faith, but they never cease to be the contrasting moral background for my main character.
Believe it or not, I found major inspiration by enduring video essays by Mark Dice. Google him at your own risk!
There is a way to mold your convictions into any genre, so don’t feel the need to be confined to the examples I gave above.
Your opposing characters can be lovers, the antagonist can be an oppressive regime, a teddy bear or a force of nature – anything the story you want to tell requires. The main purpose of my article was to give you food for thought and an alternate perspective, not rules to abide by.
Whatever your personal values may be, there is always the option to put them aside. There is no rule requiring your novel to reflect your beliefs, or to be interwoven with a hundred shades of grey, so feel free to discover your own literary palette.
But I find that writing about things that make your heart light up brings the most joy, no?
Thank you so much for letting me be a guest on your blog, Ari!
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About Aurora Elestren
Aurora Elestren is a sci-fi and fantasy writer, born in the former USSR and raised on tattered Ray Bradbury paperbacks.
Fascinated by people, Aurora loves putting relatable characters into alternative history and futuristic settings.
She is currently hard at work on her debut novel “Ansonia” and a collection of related short stories.
Humans are losing jobs to advanced alien tech, the planetary government is struggling to secure a niche in the galactic economy, and anti-alien terrorism is on the rise.
What can a go-go dancer with no high school diploma hope to achieve in a world like that?
Sonia is strongly inclined to say “nothing!”, but there is no reason to stop trying. Yet.
This post was written by a guest writer. Please check out their details above.