Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Eye of the Beholder

Yes, most people consider them to be obnoxious weeds, but...

...that's our culture as it is now. Dandelions are bright yellow, a yellow that we seek for "flowers." These "weeds" are edible and full of antioxidants that people pay big money for. The flowers are a bonanza for the bees. And dandelion wine is real and from what I've heard, tasty.

Why, then, is it a weed? Who says? Why do we spend millions of hours pulling the plant and millions on toxic chemicals to destroy it? And what does this have to do with writing?

Simple, it's all about perception. Cultural norms. Twist such things for character quirks--a woman who "farms" dandelions and makes all sorts of food from the plant, for an example. Turn a "norm" into "abnorm" for your plot--the Stepford Wives comes to mind. Turn an expected event into the unexpected--weddings are celebrations, have a bride who considers hers a funeral.

What are some perceptions to twist you can think of? Which ones have you done in your writing? Did it work, or were the readers too accustomed to the usual to understand?

This post was inspired by Earth Day.


Dave King said...

Phew! That's a big question. I can't off-hand think of any norms I've twisted in my writing - or painting, for that matter - but I will come back if any strike me. I shall be interested to see what other comments you get. Excellent post.

Helen Ginger said...

I do contend, though, that if we killed the grass and tried to grow weeds, they would not come up.

But it is good to sometimes turn things topsy-turvy in your manuscript. Surprise both yourself and your reader.

Conda Douglas said...

Thanks Dave. And you're right, this counts for other forms of creativity, like painting--I'm thinking Salvador Dali.

Swubird said...


I would say that if you intend to write for personal pleasure, or professionally, you should study people. Talk about perception, what could be more confusing than people? I have heard many people say that they are good judges of character, that they know people. They read body language. Sure, but most of what they think they know is wrong. In fact, I read several years ago that studies have shown that it's nearly impossible to read body language. On the other hand, it's fairly simple to send body language. In other words, when it come to people, perception is in the eye of the sender.

Happy trails.

Conda Douglas said...

Ha! Too true, Helen--and I'd bet we'd spend millions on controlling "the grass weed".

Conda Douglas said...

Yeah, Swu, it's like "tells" in poker, people can train themselves in any body language they choose--and do. Good point.

The Muse said...

Hey Conda!

Weeds or not, dandelions are fun for my little one once the flower has gone! She loves to blow on them and watch them fly away. I heard once that all flowers are weeds. I don't know if that's true or not. It stuck with me though.

Perceptions are like opinions, everyone has one. Some things I write about are not topics for all readers. I have my opinion and John Doe has his.

If writers don't put it out there, how would it ever be known or even considered?

Twists and turns keep things interesting. If it's not interesting, then who would follow it?

Tomorrow is Arbor Day in many states. Could writers be like a tree? Branching out from roots to tops, if they come to a block they go around, split and branch off, or break through. Yet the trunk remains constant.

Have a great day!

Anonymous said...

Hi C:
I have a book in which the antagonist is a cold blooded serial killer with the intellect of the village idiot. Once he is sentenced to prison a guard asked him if he heard of the dyslexic who didn't believe in Dog. This makes our idiotic killer realize he's not dumb, just dyslexic. This frees an Eistenian intellect and when he defeats the system and released from prison he is no longer a redneck's redneck, but a sevelte, well-educated man with a college degree, his teeth straightened and whitened. Yes, Texas prison system is good to the criminal.
The killer then goes on a crime spree to avenge his death sentence on the juror's first born.

I call it First Born.

Based on a true story.


Conda Douglas said...

Hey, Muse, I remember doing that with dandelions and now my weird dog loves to eat the seeds!

Love your metaphor of writers being branches, very apropos for Earth and Arbor Days!

Conda Douglas said...

Wowza, Bob, talk about twists! Sounds interesting and like it might have been a struggle to have "believable" fiction (because it was based on a true story that no doubt was filled with these twists).

Kathy McIntosh said...

Thought-provoking post and comments. Hmmm. I need to add more of those unexpected twists in my writing.
What often happens to me is that the unexpected to me is a cliche to someone an older woman who breaks free of the blue-haired, biscuit baking stereotype to become a kick-ass, foulmouthed stereotype. I need to stretch further.

Conda Douglas said...

Thanks, Kathy, and we all need to keep stretching as far as we can in every way (says Conda, the writer and exercise instructor).

And I've seen some real stretches (in a good way) in your writing.

~Sia McKye~ said...

A wise king once said there is nothing new under the sun. I believe that is true. Even cliches can be given a fresh perspective, used in a way that the outcome is unexpected. Sometimes we use cliches and body language for that matter, to help a reader see what we want them to.

I like to do the unexpected in my writing. Makes it fun.

And Conda, I get tired of dandelions only after I've cut my grass and 3 days later I have these stupid little stems sticking up on a othersise smooth carpet of green.

Conda Douglas said...

True about the cliches and Harlen Coben is a master of giving 'em a trist. Body language too. Both great adds to a manuscript, as Margie Lawson teaches in her workshops--have you taken hers?

And Sia, if it was all dandelions instead of grass, those little stems would be supposed to be there :)

Anonymous said...

what I gave you was the fiction.

The true story is this, and I use it in the book:

An attorney is accepted on a jury and during the trial sees legal problems when a letter of confession, to the accused wife is read into testimony. He calls for a vote on guilt or innocence based on knowledge of the letter (found guilty) then calls for second vote based on no knowledge of the letter; in other words did the defense prove its case (voted innocent) then calls for a third vote on which verdict to return (guilty and death row.) Legal error leads to a new trial 18 years later and guess who the defendent asks for for his pro bono attorney. That's right, the guy who put him into prison, and the attorney waltzes him out of prison and off death row due to legal error by the prosecuating attorney.

The above is true and I created the fiction to fit over the framework of the truth. Even interviewed the attorney who freed the killer.


Conda Douglas said...

This is why fiction is fiction. Nobody would believe it in a novel, although it happened!

Lynda Lehmann said...

Ooh, what a great post and food for thought!

Perception is everything. But we are so surely jaded by everything in our culture(s), and so distracted by our need for creature comforts, consumption and entertainment, that I'd be surprised if many people find time to examine or question their perceptions.

Sadly, in the case of dandelions and such, I think it is the chemical companies who "manufactured" the perception of what a beautiful lawn is: a homogeneous stretch of grass fed by chemicals, and keep free of encroaching "bad" weeds by MORE chemicals that poison our air and the ground water, and the very yards our children play in!

And to think, as you've pointed out, that the dandelion is nourishing. Great post, Conda!