Writing Prompt: Spicy with a chance of indigestion.

Bullying. We hear a lot about it. We’re all against it. And more than likely, most of us participate in it. Me? Not me. I’m educated. I’m civilized. I’m a good person! And yet . . . if you’re being completely honest with yourself, you may just be a bully. Even on a minor scale.

In this exercise we’re going to downplay the act of “bullying” and call it “social conditioning.” Now before you start sending me hate mail, let me state my official opinion: I am strongly opposed to bullying. I don’t know how I made it to the ripe old age of . . . ahem, 25 (hehe) without the safety and protection of the anti-bullying bubble. HOWEVER, somehow I survived the isolated incidences that might have been considered bullying by today’s standards. Back then we called it . . . wait, we didn’t call it anything. We just had to deal with it.

“Social conditioning” is a necessary part of life. Whether we like it or not, it ensures people conform to social norms. Rules. Expectations. Standards. You want to go a week without bathing? Too bad. You WILL get shunned. You want to monopolize every conversation by bragging about all your accomplishments? Go ahead. You WILL be loathed. You want to wear a suit made out of fur? Real fur? You MAY instigate a demonstration. Sure, all you really want is to “be yourself.” That would be nice, wouldn’t it? But the truth of the matter is, without social conditioning there would be way too many freaky people out there.

Your job: Take the stance I’ve just developed and run with it. Put your protagonist in a difficult situation and force him to face and/or reveal his tolerance, his support of “social conditioning” —through action and dialog, of course.

Done? Surprised? I thought so.

By Nichole Jarnagin

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3 responses to “Writing Prompt: Spicy with a chance of indigestion.

  • Alice

    Interesting thoughts. I’ve been thinking and reading about social conditioning recently. I’ve had my antagonists and villians do or going along with it, but not my MC or supporting characters. Maybe I’ll have to try it with one of them.

  • Lauren

    Interesting phrase: “Somehow I survived the isolated incidences that might have been considered bullying by today’s standards.”

    For far too many people, bullying isn’t isolated, it’s a way of life.

    But on the subject of Social Conditioning. Every character automatically participates on this level. It’s part of world building. If your society doesn’t have standards, and if the individuals don’t support the standards, it’s not a society. Most writers simply don’t recognize the standards that they (and their characters) support.

  • Lauren

    I would add that making a character go against those social norms can also create interesting tension, but only if the writer knows the expectations and makes a conscious decision to break them.

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