Oh, the Humanity (Where Does It Live?)

I’m on holiday at the moment in the States (where I’m originally from), and it’s hard not to be influenced by the news, particularly as I draft my own Normal Deviation short story. It’s been a rough week (month, year…) here in my homeland.

DeAnn and I haven’t yet read any of the stories that have been submitted: we agreed from the start to only read them after the submission deadline (31 Aug - still time!). We can’t help but have a look at the submission list as they come in, however, and a perhaps not-so-surprising trend is already emerging, based on what we can see from the titles.

A lot of the titles have a binary theme - good/bad, truth/lies, me/you, etc. You’re probably thinking, “Well, dummy, there are two figures in the pic, one black, and one white, facing each other. Of course binary themes are going to emerge.” So yeah, the nature of the image is one that is bound to inspire stories expressing some sort of tug-of-war.

Worldwide we seem to keep drifting out to either side of a political spectrum: right/left, leave/remain, red/blue. It used to be funny when a conservative and a liberal got together; now it’s a dealbreaker. Now, it’s violence, death, and war.

It’s human nature to want to see the world in black and white, good guys and bad guys, us and them. It makes life easier, and there’s always an extreme example to support a binary. We talk about dystopias and utopias the same way: one is death and destruction, the other is hope and paradise. We forget that on any given day, in any given location, both are equally possible and equally present. In the same hospital where victims of terrorist violence are treated, mothers are giving birth to new life. Like any of us, our world is neither good nor evil: it is somewhere in the middle, offering hope and despair in equal measure, but also contentment, apathy, amusement, bewilderment, nervousness, excitement, the urge to pee, and the urge to sneeze.

As writers, it’s part of our calling to wade into the middle ground: to see the humanity in the villain, to see the flaws in the hero. To show them to our readers so that they can understand that, while, sure, there are some truly unforgivable people in the world, most of us are just plain old human beings trying our best to get from birth to death without totally screwing up the world and ourselves in the process.

It’s our job as writers to reflect the themes of our world, but also the people. The relationships. The net of emotions that is woven between two people, two sides, two factions. Maybe our current environment is a factor in what subconsciously drew me to select this image as a candidate; maybe that same subconscious tendency led many of you to vote for it. Maybe we all want to try to understand and explain the rift in our society.

I’m crazy excited to sit down in a couple of weeks and read through the many submissions, to experience the range of emotions they inspire, to get to know the characters and authors embedded within them. Regardless of shallow analysis of a list of titles, I know that the fantastic writers who have been inspired by this image have been inspired by the subtext of the image, not merely the obvious dichotomy. Because that’s what great writers do: they show us more than what we can see at first glance.


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