Writing a story based around philosophies

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  1. #1
    Member The Defenestrator's Avatar
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    Writing a story based around philosophies

    So my current struggle with my current project is figuring out how to say the things I want to say without telling the reader/shoving 'em down their throat. My current method is by using a character who's life is based around my chosen philosophy, and having him broach the subject. This is problematic though -- his mini-speeches are bad dialogue, the philosophy sometimes seems forced or presented all 'yoda-like'. It's frustrating, because I want my story to be well-told and engaging to the reader, but I also want to have the philosophical ideas present, influential, and clear to the reader.

    In short, incorporating my philosophical ideas into my writing without lowering dialogue quality has become a challenge. I was hoping you'd all have some suggestions or ideas as to how to help me. I figured this would also be something interesting to talk about: what powerful and yet simple/efficient ways have you seen philosophy displayed in a well-told story?

    As for the story I'm talking about, the rough draft is very nearly done (it's a challenge to write as I've become less and less satisfied with what's already written). If you want to see it in order to help me, I could message it to you or post it in the workshop forums as soon as tomorrow.
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  2. #2
    I'd have my protagonist learn the philosophy by royally screwing up. Then he/she would finally choose the "right" action (or inaction) after learning those hard lessons.
    Wisdom is seldom boisterous.

    -- a guy I know --

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  3. #3
    Member stevesh's Avatar
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    Philosophies or politics? There's a difference.

  4. #4
    Its a problem. I'm glad you're writing a book with something useful to say. Once my protagonist gave a long talk. I shortened what I could, but I still ended up with a long monologue that didn't work. And I mostly now restrict myself to things that can be said in a single sentence. But you should present your philosophy.

    Obviously I don't know (1) what the philosophy is or (2) how long it is or (3) how hard it is to understand or (4) how many people will actually care about. Throwing out ideas anyway...

    1. Turn it into an argument between two people. That sugercoats it with conflict and emotion. (I am probably going to try that tonight on my own monologue.)

    2. Make it an argument while the two people are having sex. Or some other interesting activity.

    3. Break it up into different sections.

    4. Write the first draft as a long monologue. You have to figure out exactly what you want to say before you play with it. Once it's written down, you can be more patient about breaking it up and playing with it.

    If it helps, I didn't have a complicated philosophy to present in the following (it's mostly her trying to understand herself. I spread it out over three days. This is the start of the third day, and you can see me playing with what is happening. (Sorry if I am saying the obvious.)

    We're sitting outside the Museo Soumaya. It's late in the day but there's a beautiful blue sky. And this is a beautiful building. This is another command performance for Pete.

    "Pete? Men and women should be the same, right?"

    "I guess." But he's still thinking. I wait while he thinks. Finally he answers, "Really?"

    "Have you ever heard anyone say women are supposed to be weak or subservient?"

    "No." But he thinks again. "I really enjoy the differences."

    "You aren't dancing at a pole, or getting coffee, or spending 10 minutes helping a 3-year-old eat her yogurt."

    "Happy to do the coffee thing." He smiles at me.

    "Well, most men aren't. Men get to be the big winners in males and females being different."

    He thinks again, really hard. "I see what you mean."

    "So it's completely unfair that I'm like this. But... I like being the New Tess."

    Pete smiles. "Everyone likes the new you."

    [and more]

    Writing advice for Hidden Content

  5. #5
    I'm gonna agree with Emma. If there's philosiphy to be adopted and believed by any main character, not everyone will agree, and some time or another it will come up and cause some kind of conflict or emotion.

    Some of my favorite stories deal with A.I. and their worth as 'living' things. Of course, people have conversations, arguements. So that's a good point.

    Something else I read might help ya'.
    When you want to convey something, use the actions and reactions of the characters to convey it. That's usually the case with emotion.

    You can say: "She felt scared," But describing the physical effects has a much greater impact, and conveys the same nervous symptoms to the read. Just to use horror as an example.

    So if it's philosophy, of course that issue will come up in peoples lives. If you want to strongly convey that without shoving it down someone's throat, use a specific event, maybe something tragic.

    Some outcome or circumstance that would make the reader recognize the issue and take a side without actually just explaining it with character dialogue. I'm no genius but that might help.

    Edited out that broken quote. I'll figure it out sometime.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by The Defenestrator View Post
    ...It's frustrating, because I want my story to be well-told and engaging to the reader, but I also want to have the philosophical ideas present, influential, and clear to the reader.

    In short, incorporating my philosophical ideas into my writing without lowering dialogue quality has become a challenge. I was hoping you'd all have some suggestions or ideas as to how to help me. I figured this would also be something interesting to talk about: what powerful and yet simple/efficient ways have you seen philosophy displayed in a well-told story?..
    Take your "philosophies" outside of the character and apply them to other things.

    For instance, many writers will use metaphorical constructions in order to present "philosophies." They might present them in job environments or in fantasy or science-fiction governments. Home life might parallel a philosophical approach and there could even be examples in interpersonal relationships.

    I don't know what sort of "philosophies" you're focusing on, but choose the appropriate tool for the job. Political and social philosophies are appropriate for "organizations" and relationships and interactions that are spawned by those. Where do you see those sorts of things writ large? "Fahrenheit 451", "Brave New World", "Animal Farm", "Lord of the Flies", "THX 1138", "Bladerunner", etc.. But, are there heady philosophical discourses in these stories? Meh, maybe in some parts, but not in the majority. They're kept metaphorical or even blatantly thrust at the reader with no subtext/translation/counter-argument. It's the contrast of how the character interacts in their relationship with them that is the philosophical argument that is being represented in the story.

    Build your philosophical commentary metaphorically by illustrating it through the mechanism of a character interacting with it or applying a philosophical counter-argument through their actions against it.

    Let's say your character works in a dictatorial workplace that is run by a tyrant. The tyrant knows that they have complete control over their employees and seeks to extend that control beyond conventional boundaries. The character is caught up in the tyrant's quest for power, being forced to answer the phone at obscene hours and to produce meaningless TPS reports all day... All they want is a little space, you know? A little separation from "job life" and "my life." But, they can't get that and their boss doesn't budge an inch. So, what to do they do? They scream "FREEDOM" and charge the walls of their cubicle. That sort of story didn't have to have a sit-down conversation between characters in order to illustrate what the problems were, does it?

  7. #7
    Member The Defenestrator's Avatar
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    Philosophies or politics? There's a difference.
    Philosophies.

    So what I'm getting is that the conflicts that the action revolves around should be inherently philosophical, or at least be metaphorically representative of a philosophic struggle between characters.

    I'm kind of opposed to adding sex or violence or conflict just to sell an idea or make the philosophy more palatable -- I'd rather the philosophy be a theme, a recurring entity that is integrated into the story seamlessly and affects and informs interpretation of every scene -- at least, that's the goal. Saying is a hell of a lot easier than doing, haha.

    Thanks for the suggestions and advice so far though, it's been very helpful.
    NESCIO QUID FACIAM

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by The Defenestrator View Post
    I'm kind of opposed to adding sex or violence or conflict just to sell an idea or make the philosophy more palatable -- I'd rather the philosophy be a theme, a recurring entity that is integrated into the story seamlessly and affects and informs interpretation of every scene -- at least, that's the goal.
    It's strange that you're not wanting to spice it up to make it more palatable, but you also refuse to let it be just a monologue. I'm not saying it needs a car chase, but conflict is the essence of story. Without it, you might as well just have your protagonist go bowling with his friends--but even there, every time I've been bowling, there's been serious conflict ("Oh, you did NOT just step over the foul line!").

    I'll be honest. As a reader, I don't want your philosophy. I have my own, and it's annoying enough as it is. But I do want a story. A good one, too. And if, like the proverbial Greeks in the Trojan horse, you want to sneak some philosophy in there? I don't mind one bit. But trying to shoehorn some big philosophy in will likely just alienate readers who don't agree with it (or don't care).

    Stick to a good story, inject a little philosophy, and let it shine on its own merits within the work.
    If you ever need a second set of eyes on your work, PM me for a critique! I'm happy to help Hidden Content

  9. #9
    The book shouldn't be about the philosophy. The book should be about the characters. The way they behave, the way they interact with others, the things they do will communicate their philosophy far more effectively than monologues, or conversations where they discuss their philosophy. There's no way to make that sound natural. The story needs to be about how characters with a given philosophy act, not a medium for them to lecture the reader. The Chronicles of Narnia are books of philosophy, but they are story first. Fahrenheit 451 is a book about philosophy, but the philosophy is expressed through the story not through dialogue.

    Just as in real-life, a philosophy in a book is more effectively expressed through actions than through words.
    “Fools” said I, “You do not know
    Silence like a cancer grows
    Hear my words that I might teach you
    Take my arms that I might reach you”
    But my words like silent raindrops fell
    And echoed in the wells of silence : Simon & Garfunkel


    Those who enjoy stirring the chamber-pot should be required to lick the spoon.

    Our job as writers is to make readers dream, to infiltrate their minds with our words and create a new reality; a reality not theirs, and not ours, but a new, unique combination of both.

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  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by The Defenestrator View Post
    I'd rather the philosophy be a theme, a recurring entity that is integrated into the story seamlessly and affects and informs interpretation of every scene -- at least, that's the goal.
    I like to structure my stories around a thematic lesson that the character needs to learn.

    Jake Sully, in James Cameron's 2009 film Avatar, needs to learn a thematic lesson: that he's on the wrong team. The philosophy of the story, quietly stated to the viewer, is to "find something worth fighting for." The whole movie is built around this tenet.

    When you have a thematic lesson (or philosophy, or however you want to think of it) in mind, you can rewrite every scene with that perspective in mind, ensuring that your readers, even if they aren't explicitly aware of your theme, will sense a greater thread tying everything together.

    The trick, then, is to hide it so well that even if your philosophy (your theme, your message, whatever you want to call it) is removed, the story would still be excellent on its own. That's when you know you've done your job as a writer.

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