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What is "WEIRD," anyway?
Questioning what we unthinkingly consider "normal" and seeing it through the eyes of someone else can birth the most interesting narratives
This is part of my “Art of Noticing” series, in which I learn, find, or discover the things around me that usually go unnoticed and turn them into an endless source of creative inspiration.
Today, it occurred to me how weird it is that so many of us live with animals in our houses, even though it’s considered normal. It made me think our “typical” might be someone else’s “weird.”
There’s a running joke in my house where we look at our dog Abby and say to each other, “Did you ever stop and really think about how weird it is that we have an animal living in our house?”
The joke goes on from there: She’s got sharp teeth; she might decide one day to eat us; she’s this weird hairy thing that we take for granted. My wife rolls her eyes because she’s heard it a thousand times before, even though it never gets old to me and the kids.
The point here is that perspective matters even though we seldom think too much about it. What we think of as commonplace in one narrative setting might be outrageous in another or to a person who’d never seen it before … like this odd phenomenon of humans letting animals live amongst them. Is it normal? To most where I happen to live, yes. But to someone who’d never seen it before? Not on your life.
Perspective is everything in stories, and if I’m not careful, sometimes I’ll write everything from the perspective of someone just like me rather than considering objectively how my “normal” might not be normal at all. In a book, too, I often introduce elements that are normal for the characters in that world but wildly fantastical for the reader. And that’s good. Reality can be boring. Deviations from it are a great way to capture attention and tell good tales.
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Here's how this "noticing" can benefit my stories and art:
1. Creating worlds where weird is typical or vice-versa
By crafting a world where the “strange” is ordinary, I can introduce layers of depth and interest that might not be there otherwise. These worlds challenge reader perceptions and engage their imaginations, making for a captivating read.
But the opposite is true as well. Using the archetype of The Outsider or The Newcomer (someone who’s able to see the everyday world with fresh eyes), I can play with the ways in which our world is far weirder than we usually think it is.
I mean, we let animals live in our homes. But we also squeeze the things dangling beneath cows and drink what comes out. WTF?
2. Highlighting Cultural Relativism
And hey, don’t forget the most mundane but possibly most important lesson to come from my pets-are-weird-when-you-think-about-it example: the variations between cultures in our own world.
It’s easy — especially in America — to become myopic and start to act as if only one culture and way of doing things (ours) exists. That’s more than obviously untrue. Looking at anything with a new lens is a reminder to consider the perspectives of others who might not be like us in some ways. Understanding and respecting different “normals” is a vital practice for writers and other creators, ensuring our art is well-rounded … and therefore that much more authentic.
While world-building, dare to question the “given.” Challenge the usual norms and let your narrative revel in the delightful strangeness of its own creation!
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