As writers, there are many things we need to know. Among those things are such items as mastering the language we’re writing in, including its grammar and punctuation, and its spelling of words. We also need to know how rhythm works when stringing words together. And we need to know editing. Editing is the key to all good writing. And to good story-telling, too.
Even as essential all these technical items are in writing, the most essential part is understanding people, how they act and talk and what motivates them.
Now, some people think that watching Soap Operas will tell you what you need to know about humanity. Mostly, though, all you’ll learn from Soap Operas is what constitutes good writing and what doesn’t. And too many people confuse their emotional involvement with the characters in such shows with good writing.
Now, to understand people, you need to listen to them and watch them. A good place to do that is at a shopping mall. Other good places are on college campuses and at sporting events. Sit up in the back bleachers and spend less time watching the sporting event and more time watching and listening to the people around you.
Also, pay attention to what is going on in your own family, especially at family gatherings. Who’s being listened to and who’s being ignored. Who’s forth-coming with information and who dismisses others for wasting their time. Are your children or your siblings, your cousins, you parents or aunts and uncles, even grandparents, or even yourself more interested in what they, or you, are doing than in what’s going on around them/you?
You might even consider yourself as a prime source of learning about humanity. What can you learn from your own behavior? This last one requires a lot of self-awareness and self-honesty. You’re not helping yourself or your writing if you think of yourself as above the rest of the world or unwilling to delve into your own emotions or past experiences. If you can’t look at yourself, how can you observe others? Likewise, what you feel can be translated into your writing and especially, if writing fiction, into your characters.
Every good and bad experience or thought you’ve had should at sometime be translated into you characters and their thoughts/memories.
You see, the true essence of all fiction is what it teaches us about humanity, especially our own humanity. How will you be able to understand what the parents of the little boy dragged off by an alligator at Disney World feel if you can’t put yourself in their place?
If you’re writing a fictional tale, you have to put your heart and soul into what the characters are thinking about and what they’re going. But if you’re a journalist, you have to maintain some distance.
Yes, it true, if you’re reporting on something, it’s your job not to get personally involved. You must remain objective. Once you put yourself in there, it stops being news. It stops being about the event and becomes only about you and your reaction to event. Whether its a terrorist attack at a gay nightclub or an alligator attack at Disney World, the journalist’s job is to report what is happening to others as objectively as possible, without personally involving yourself.
Many times, too many times, I see television reporters using inflammatory language about politics or terrorist attacks or local or national events. Once they put themselves and their anger into the report, usually in an effort to outrage their viewers or listeners and so draw them to their side, it’s no longer news, it’s an editorial. Then they’ve committed fraud upon their audience, trying to influence their viewers into choosing a personal path rather than letting them decide for themselves. Then the reporter has failed as a journalist.
Another excellent place to learn about life is politics. Watching politics is an excellent place to learn about humanity. I’d suggest not going to political rallies because it’s too easy to get caught up in what’s going on, as it is at a sporting event.
What can you learn from watching politics? You can learn what people are willing to do to each other for personal ambition or for political ideals. And if you watch it enough, you’ll learn about irony, too.
For instance, when I watched Senator Elisabeth Warren attacking Donald Trump a while back, I heard a lot stream of negative things about him. Then she said, “blah, blah, blah… as all Republicans are.” Now, I’m a moderate and an independent voter, but my wife is a Republican and she’s the most loving and kind and good person I’ve ever known. And here’s Senator Warren accusing my wife of being just like Trump.
What’s Senator Warren doing here? She’s demonizing Trump and all Republicans. Yes, Trump’s doing that same thing to certain political figures, but not everyone in any specific party. What’s the irony about all this? Warren is doing exactly what Adolph Hitler did in the 1920s and 1930s when he demonized Jews. He created a scapegoat for everyone to fear and hate. And Senator Warren’s doing exactly the same thing.
If Warren didn’t have Republicans to demonize, and vice versa for Trump and the Democrats, then both would have to find someone else to demonize. So, maybe they’d pick the very rich. If this group was available, they might pick drug dealers and criminals. And if they weren’t available, gun owners. And if they weren’t available, someone else. In order to control a populace, you have to give them an enemy, someone to fear and hate. Who would Warren go after, if she didn’t have Trump and the Republicans?
That’s a good question. Too bad there are not any gutsy, hungry journalists out there that are willing to follow up on that question. Done right, it could mean a Pulitzer Prize.
Other things that you can learn from watching politics is when people are lying. You’ll discover the politicians’ tells. A “tell”, if you’re not familiar with that term, comes from play cards. A “tell” tells you when an opposing player has a good card hand. A tell is a form of body language.
For instance, I watched Fox News host Bill O’Reilly interview President Obama once. The President had his legs and arms crossed. In Western societies (and most other societies as well) such a position indicates a serious defensive position. The President subconsciously told the viewers as well as Mr. O’Reilly that he wasn’t giving out any information about anything he didn’t want to talk about.
Sometimes, when people lie, their faces taken on a wild look because they’ve realized that they’re lying without meaning to and wish they hadn’t started lying to begin with. Sometimes, a person will get a little twinkle in their eyes before regaining their composure, because they think they can pull something over on the public. Sometimes, they’ll have a smirk on their lips or look smug, thinking they’re getting away with something. All these tells let the audience know that the speaker doesn’t value you. They think you’re gullible and they can get away subterfuge rather than honesty.
That’s it for now. If you watch the words people pick, sometimes you can tell when their lying to you. But with the written word, it’s harder to tell. You don’t have a person’s subconsciousness letting you know through body language that you’re being lied to.
Good luck. Learn things.