Tag Archives: viscous circle

Be Real Be Careful

It’s hard to avoid, and probably we shouldn’t; the things going on in America right now are explosive and fodder for writing, but be careful please.

Avoid straw men.

Battling the Straw Men | Sojourners
No face on a straw man.

In telling the story of, for example, the protests going on, you have your perspective. Maybe you have incredible insight into the protesters and want to write their story. It would be very easy to paint cops as the unrepentant bad guys (or the protesters if you’re on the other side), but that isn’t reality. Every situation has a story and every person has a story.

Your story will be better if your antagonists aren’t monochrome. If your situation isn’t monochrome. Watching Facebook right now, it can be overwhelming. For every reasoned post there are a dozen one-sided posts or memes. You have the responsibility to consider all angles.

The protesters have solid points. The police have solid points. If you paint them as two sides facing one another, you’ve got it wrong. The situation is a vicious circle.

The police are there to maintain law and order and to serve and protect. They are trained in Police Academy that authority lost cannot be regained. Authority does not equal authoritarian, but it’s an uneasy balance. Treat a cop with respect and he’ll almost always treat you that way, but cops are human and cumulative disrespect can color any encounter. Consistently treat the with disrespect, not acknowledging authority and authority will respond.

People of community lose respect for police almost never because of the cop (though some times). Crime and drugs are rampant and “cops don’t do anything.” Upstanding citizens get discouraged, not recognizing that manpower distribution isn’t up to patrol officers, but the brass. So criminals get more brazen, and community and police are endangered and disrespected. Drugs, gangs, these spell danger to police. When they’re mocked or disregarded, reasserting authority is difficult, and so is safety. So they militarize. They generalize the threat, so any person of color is targeted and brutality becomes possible, as does retribution. How does one regain authority? If respect doesn’t work, fear will.

Meanwhile, gang-life is a requirement for some people in the community. Drugs are the only way to make money. Many feel their choices aren’t choices but foregone conclusions. They don’t see police as help but as foes. They feel picked on and constantly in danger from people who are supposed to be helping. From there, disrespect is easy. And disrespect is shown in many small and large ways that cops respond to. The vicious cycle is both “sides” coming at each confrontation with preconceived notions. Perhaps the fear makes a person resist arrest. Perhaps that flares a cop’s reaction, and a controlled situation descends into chaos. Throw in the strong threat of danger for both parties and things go wrong really fast.

We’ve watched this cycle for decades and it’s come to a head.

Where does the writer come in? Telling someone’s story; showing the arc of understanding or destruction. You can’t move someone through an arc with straw-men bad guys.

The writer can’t afford a weighted bias, not if they want to tell a “true” story. Because the truth is, everyone is a little right and a little wrong. As the writer, you orchestrate the reveal, but nothing says only the hero has to change (and the hero can be a cop or a civilian), everyone can change.

Perhaps you cast this conflict with Elves and Trolls. You have to be able to see the perspective of both. Trolls think they’re right (and in their system they are), and Elves think they’re right (within their system).

Perhaps you’ve mapping a different story, perhaps about a contagion that brings out the worst (and best) of people. Consider The Core a movie about restarting the revolutions of the Earth’s core before life ends. I love it, though many don’t. There are several people on the ship taking them to the core, and each has their valid reasons for being on board, none of them the same and often at odds. What does that have to do with contagion and viruses? It’s the same story. Catastrophe must be averted by the actions of a few people. Even the vain, venal people matter.

Motivate all your characters, and to do so, you must understand the nuances of all stance, write that and you have a dynamic story that lives beyond the page.