If you have heard of Jordan Peterson, you might think he is an alt-right spreader of hate, claiming women deserve less and trans-people shouldn’t exist while extolling the virtues of straight white males.
If you have heard of Jordan Peterson, you might think he is a source of reason, speaking out against academic and political movements which seem to believe in literal mind over matter where human desire can render statements about the objective world subjective and malleable.
Regardless, you’re probably thinking, “Why the hell is ‘J for Jordan Peterson’ an entry in an A-Z blog entry when your theme is ‘learning the craft and business of writing’?”
It is because I heard of Jordan Peterson and watched a good deal of his videos before he became famous for opposition to Canada’s Bill C-16. I was pointed to a video analyzing the Disney movie Pinocchio as part of his Maps of Meaning course. The source was an episode of The Everyday Novelist on voice.
Those videos spurred me to apply more of what I knew about stories and myths from a critical and sociological point to my own writing. It was those videos that got me to step back and ask myself why I wanted to tell the stories I wanted to tell beyond “writing the books I wished were being printed.” That examination has given me a lot more confidence in my writing.
That process of examination is part of why I’m reading and watching westerns. My current novel in progress, as well as a recently completed short story, is a western. It is how an Arab camel driver memorialized in a song I loved in fourth grade inspired the protagonist of my first attempted western short story. Now I’m writing a novel about a Mexican woman who married a former Kansas raider who became a Confederate deserter only to be hunted down and in revenge of his raider days.
The outcome of that examination allowed me to see Leo and Zoe’s potential beyond the first story. Zoe was conceived as a character designed to answer the complaint about female action heroes who could beat men twice their size in a straight-up fight dominating current action fantasy. Leo emerged from the writer as a retired soldier who realized he couldn’t just retire.
Each of those characters embodies one or more things I want to talk about. A shortlist of those things could include gender roles and their relationship to sexual dimorphism in humanity, Orthodox Christianity, immigration, the Southwestern United States, the for purpose in life, my fears of aging, my fears of retiring, atonement and forgiveness, and a personal sense of moral worth or lack thereof.
Yet, I want to write action stories.
No, I do. The problem is stories are never just “action stories” or something else. It is easier to see how other genres have moral aspects. The morality internal genre is strictly about it. Horror, and its offspring, the thriller, are both stories about the state of the moral universe, generally covering what happens when it breaks down.
The thing is, all stories have moral ramifications. Stories are how we teach each other about life. We pass along our ethics and morals in stories. What we value informs the stories we tell and what stories we like. If a story that celebrates immorality can be aesthetically pleasing is an ongoing debate.
Christ used parables for a reason. Many religious texts contain stories of people for a reason.
All of these things are things I knew, intellectually, to varying degrees for years.
Yet it wasn’t until I watched Peterson’s analysis of Pinocchio that I connected my desire to tell stories to those realities.
Yet, he also reminded me of the danger of just sending a message in my tales. Message fiction has a bad reputation, entirely deserved. The examination his videos prompted was of something deeper. He made me think about why I wanted to tell the stories I wanted to tell with the characters I dreamed up. None of that is directly useful to writing a given story, but it helps me evaluate what ideas to pursue. When my imagination dries up trying to write a story, it gives me clues to a choice to go back to the wrong turn and rewrite or move on to new work.
If there is one thing about Peterson I have in common with many of his fans is a conviction he pointed me in a better direction. For that, I thank hi