I recent TED Talk I found really spoke to me. Chimamanda Adichie is from Nigeria, and she speaks about the danger of a single story, where she relates how a single story of Africa has caused grave harm and a critical misunderstanding about the huge diversity of people and cultures within Africa. There are many overlapping stories in the various regions and cultures of Africa, but many people fail to see this because of the single story being promoted by our literature and media. Here is the awesome talk:
This caused me to ponder what single stories may do for world-building. Often we may focus on a culture within our created universe, but that’s just a single story. What is the diversity within your world? What other stories may overlap or even contradict the one you just told? Sometimes, when I sit at my desk wondering what to write, I’m not doing this for the lack of ideas. No, there is so many different possibilities and stories within my created worlds, that I often feel overwhelmed and I don’t know where to start.
The only action I can do is to pick one and write that tale, but always remember that even as I write this tale from the perspective of my protagonist, I’m only telling one side of the story. There is always more facets to the story that I may not be able to tell within the confines of the story itself because of the choices I made in order to tell the story in the most coherent and cohesive manner. You often cannot relate all the possible views of all the scenes within the story, but you can choose one view and maybe a few others as long as it doesn’t destabilize the coherency of the story itself. But what views will you choose? Why did you choose them? Is your biases affecting your choices? These are questions I often ask myself as I write.
When I write these stories, I don’t want to be locked into one viewpoint and one worldview. I want to be able to experience the conflict of differing worldviews and perspectives within the confines of the story, and this is why character conflict can be just as important as plot conflict. Character conflict can help reveal more nuances to the story, and help it deviate from the tendency of telling a single story. My purpose in writing is to tell the stories of the characters in the best way I can, in hopes it will inspire and invoke thought in my readers, helping them to see the world in a different light. To do that, I must not fall into the mold of a ‘single story’ that Chimamanda Adichie describes in the TED Talk as well. I need to be respectful of the multiple, overlapping stories my characters and their world has, and to try to find a way to represent that without losing coherency and consistency within the novel itself. It’s a hard task, but an exciting and interesting one.