Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum
Richard Novak

Starting a Project - An Objectivist Bedtime Story

Rate this topic

Recommended Posts

Hello everyone,

I've been thinking about a project for some time and I think I'm about ready to put in on paper. In short, it's a bedtime story (mainly for my little ones but I'd love to publish it, even self-publish if that's the only option). Here's why I think this important:

First, Objectivism is an incredibly important philosophy. Obviously that's the reason most of us are here, not to pick fights but to understand and discuss the ideas of Ayn Rand. I don't think it's represented in media nearly enough.

Second, other things are represented far too often. I have to deal with religion, liberalism, the media, and many other influences. I don't want my kids to be ignorant of these things (know thy enemy, you might say) but I want to introduce them to an opposing way of thinking.

The real problem I think I'm going to have is trying to present this complex system of ethics and morality to children in a way they'll understand. I can simplify it as much as possible but I don't want to gloss over anything that's too important. In other words, I know it's pointless to explain calculus to a child who's just learning addition.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I'm going to post character profiles, plot points, and maybe some sketches (I plan on illustrating this myself). What I'm looking for is criticism. If there's one group of people I know won't spare my feelings, it's my fellow Objectivists. And of course, there's nothing more important than the voluntary exchange of effort or worth. I will reciprocate any time you'd like an objective, honest opinion.

I can't expect my young children to understand The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged when I read it to them, and Mrs. Rand didn't (to my knowledge) produce anything like a primer for children. If I don't want my daughters to idolize Snookie and that sort of lifestyle, I have to give them something else to look up to. There's no better gift I could give them than alternative ideas to promote critical thinking.

Thanks,

R. Ellis Novak

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The real problem I think I'm going to have is trying to present this complex system of ethics and morality to children in a way they'll understand.

I would suggest focusing on tales that illustrate the supremacy of reason over various types of irrationality (emotionalism, wishful thinking, arbitrary assertions, faulty logic, etc.), rather than selfishness vs. altruism.

Demolish the methods altruists use to argue for their ideology, and you don't have to even bother with the actual ideology.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Nicky's idea is good. Kids are brought up with books and tv shows that tell them to just "believe", whatever that means. A child's book that showed the supremacy of reason over faith would be cool.

Also, here is a musician on Youtube who semi-attempted to do this. I thought it was pretty cool, but not simple enough to be child-friendly:

Edited by CptnChan

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Gentlemen, thank you for the ideas. I do want the main character, a young girl, to be very logical in her approach to problems. One of the first scenes in the book involves her watching the stars come out and the narration mentions how she has no desire to wish upon them like the other children.

I look forward to posting more details soon. I could use your continued advice, in exchange for whatever I'm able to provide.

Thanks,

R Ellis Novak

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This isn't exactly what you asked, but I think the most important thing is to instill a good sense of life.

Choose a setting and context that shows life as an exciting adventure, not as a dreary jail sentence. Write about building and creating new things, not about grandma dying in the nursing home. (Seriously, there are a ton of modern children's books about divorce, mom dying of cancer, friend getting stung by bee and dying, etc.)

If the story will involve a battle between good and evil, make the good and evil characters clearcut. Do not give the evil character redeeming qualities that would evoke sympathy for him. Also show the ineptitude of evil by having the evil character's actions result in his own demise. Make the hero a real hero with no flaws. Make him/her win in the end, demonstrating that virtue is rewarded. One way of doing this is by using examples that show philosophical principles, rather than naming the principles directly. Present a dramatized version of some conflict that a child in real life might encounter, and show the hero doing the right thing in that stylized situation.

Another suggestion I have is to show the role of emotion in life-- the joy of living. I love Galt and Roark, but many young Objectivists become robotic because they mis-apply the more serious personality to their own lives. I myself made this error, and alienated myself from any potential friends (who I automatically assumed were "inferior"). The reason I mention this is your comment:

"One of the first scenes in the book involves her watching the stars come out and the narration mentions how she has no desire to wish upon them like the other children."

That scene could turn out well, but I urge you not to make too large an issue of a superior hero self-isolating from all of the irrational hooligans. Kira, Roark, etc. give off that vibe and they are happy-- but too many real-life new Objectivists try to apply that same self-isolation and end up unhappy as a result of their distance.

This is a wonderful project and I'd love to read your drafts and/or final story.

Edited by NewEdit617

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for the interest everyone! I'll post a brief premise either tonight or tomorrow. What I'm hearing here gives me the feeling I may be on the right track so far. The main character here finds life very joyous, and I hope I can convey that. Look for info soon.

R. Ellis Novak

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This isn't exactly what you asked, but I think the most important thing is to instill a good sense of life...

"One of the first scenes in the book involves her watching the stars come out and the narration mentions how she has no desire to wish upon them like the other children."

That scene could turn out well...

It could also turn out badly, and for a few of reasons: 1), a child who does not have dreams and wishes like other children sounds as if she is probably, sense-of-life-wise, either drearily, unrealistically logical and lacking in playfullness and imagination, or; 2), deterministically born to be perfectly Objectivist without ever having to learn or play or explore or make mistakes; and, 3), it sounds as if the author may not understand the artistic or sense-of-life appeal of the concept of "wishing upon a star," which is an aesthetic experience of aiming for the highest and best for oneself -- it's an aesthetic act of imagining experiencing one's highest goals as if they were real, and thus serving the same purpose of gaining value from fictional worlds (which are just as unreal as wishing upone a star) such as those presented in The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.

J

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks again for the replies everyone. I think wishing, even praying, is a behavior that has to be learned, then accepted. The main character is a little older, early teens or thereabouts. Her parents never taught her to wish upon stars because of their personal beliefs, and when she was younger she tried based on other people doing so only to be left with the feeling it was pointless. She's the kind of character who says "I will" instead of "I wish." I think this is important because it's also why she's the one character to confront the evil characters of the book while other characters just wish he'd go away. Thanks for the continued interest!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

While I'm sure your project is well-intentioned, what you describe sounds dreadfully propagandistic.

The real problem I think I'm going to have is trying to present this complex system of ethics and morality to children in a way they'll understand.

Strictly speaking, this is an impossible assignment. Philosophy is an adult discipline; you cannot instill an understanding of Objectivist ethics — or any ethical system, for that matter — in a young child, let alone expect to accomplish it in a bedtime tale.

What you can do is create a story that is in effect rational, and is enjoyable to read, that illustrates or dramatizes a single, relatively noncomplex and uncontroversial idea. The importance of thinking is one possibility, or the virtue of industriousness.

Whether you're writing a children's book or an adult novel, you need to focus first on creating an engaging story. Too many Objectivist writers think it's their duty to create a philosophic screed dressed up as a work of art. Ayn Rand didn't do that, and you shouldn't either.

Mrs. Rand didn't (to my knowledge) produce anything like a primer for children.

I can't conceive of anything more horrifying than an "Objectivist primer." If such a thing existed, any child who was given one would be fully justified in burning it, and running away from home, in my opinion.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Kevin,

I appreciate your feedback. Please allow me to address your concerns.

The story might seem like propaganda, but in relation to what? Al Gore's global warming propaganda? Dr. Seuss' leftist/socialist propaganda? How about the sexuality and horrible relationship messages we see in the Twilight series? Not all propaganda in children’s books is bad though; just look at the Harry Potter series, basically a commentary on racism. You're right about one thing: there's no way to instill an understanding within anyone. But like I said, I don't want to instill an understanding; rather, I want to present a concept in a way younger children will be able to understand. Understanding is their conscious effort to grasp the concept. Keeping it out of their mental reach is counterproductive.

Philosophy is not an adult discipline. If it was, none of the things I mentioned in the paragraph above would be available to children. Instead, I consider philosophy as something children should absolutely be exposed to. But there's a difference between presenting something as fact or presenting it as one alternative.

You said, "Whether you're writing a children's book or an adult novel, you need to focus first on creating an engaging story." Of course, that goes without saying.

You also said, "Too many Objectivist writers think it's their duty to create a philosophic screed dressed up as a work of art." In fact, the story and the purpose should evolve together. This isn't a reality show like Jersey Shore. It's an oroborus. Speaking only of fiction, the story without a purpose is as pathetic as a purpose without a story. How can a work of fiction aimed at children survive without either? I like my writing to reflect reality; I like my reality to reflect Objectivist principles. That said, is it wrong for a character to exhibit traits we associate with Objectivism?

You also said, "Ayn Rand didn't do that, and you shouldn't either." Of course she did it. Her philosophy was the primary reason she wrote; she dressed it up in fantastic, engaging works of fiction (various plays, Anthem, We the Living, The Fountainhead, and Atlas Shrugged) to make it easier to understand. Each book was like a long hypothetical discussion about how different personality types meshed with her beliefs, what became known as Objectivism.

But my goals are not that grand. I'm not writing the next Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead. Instead, all I endeavor to accomplish is to lay the most basic framework of a belief system I respect in such a way that children will understand some of the fundamentals. And, I do this because I absolutely believe the church, radical environmentalism, and the entertainment industry in general have too much of an influence on our young. These influences are unopposed. I don't want my childrens' first experience with critical thinking to come at 17 years old when they stumble across Atlas Shrugged in their school library, if it hasn't been banned by then.

Kevin, I understand your concerns. I'd ask only that you give this project a chance before you judge it. Presenting a character who has a desire to be the best she can be without these other influences certainly can't be that much of a threat, can it?

R. Ellis Novak

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Second, other things are represented far too often. I have to deal with religion, liberalism, the media, and many other influences. I don't want my kids to be ignorant of these things (know thy enemy, you might say) but I want to introduce them to an opposing way of thinking.

I am wondering, are you an experienced writer? I ask because that affects how things are done. In some way, it sounds like you've assigned yourself a task as an inexperienced writer might, rather than pursued of creativity. Perhaps you'd be better off looking for various media that speaks to individuality and values. There are many books and video games around that really reflect that pretty well.

Edited by Eiuol

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I am wondering, are you an experienced writer? I ask because that affects how things are done. In some way, it sounds like you've assigned yourself a task as an inexperienced writer might, rather than pursued of creativity.

That's the impression that I'm getting too. I could be wrong, but Richard seems to have little respect for the craft. He doesn't appear to be artistically independent, uncompromisingly original or eager to pursue his own unique vision, but would rather follow Ayn Rand's. It's as if he thinks that art is a selective re-creation of reality according to Ayn Rand's ideas rather than his own.

J

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

That's the impression that I'm getting too. I could be wrong, but Richard seems to have little respect for the craft. He doesn't appear to be artistically independent, uncompromisingly original or eager to pursue his own unique vision, but would rather follow Ayn Rand's. It's as if he thinks that art is a selective re-creation of reality according to Ayn Rand's ideas rather than his own.

J

Well... there's nothing that prevents a person from holding "Ayn Rand's ideas" as one's own. The ideas don't ultimately belong to anyone, except for everyone who holds them. And if an Objectivist were to create art, I shouldn't be surprised if that art reflected Objectivist ideas.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

That's the impression that I'm getting too. I could be wrong, but Richard seems to have little respect for the craft. He doesn't appear to be artistically independent, uncompromisingly original or eager to pursue his own unique vision, but would rather follow Ayn Rand's. It's as if he thinks that art is a selective re-creation of reality according to Ayn Rand's ideas rather than his own.

What? Are we reading the same thread?

In some way, it sounds like you've assigned yourself a task as an inexperienced writer might, rather than pursued of creativity.

I don't see how that matters. The only way I can get anything done is to set tasks for myself and work on completing them. Why would writing a book (or creating a work of art) be any different? Beethoven didn't just sit around all day until he was struck with the perfect concerto. It took lots of time, effort, and many many revisions.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't see how that matters. The only way I can get anything done is to set tasks for myself and work on completing them. Why would writing a book (or creating a work of art) be any different? Beethoven didn't just sit around all day until he was struck with the perfect concerto. It took lots of time, effort, and many many revisions.

What I mean is that someone like Beethoven or any other artistic person wouldn't just sit down one day and start working at making something as though it's like doing homework due the next day. From experience, I simply cannot assign myself something like "write for an hour everyday". If I do, my writing just isn't as good. Of course, making something takes time and planning, but when lacking ideas, sometimes it's best to literally do something else. I do not know if this is the case for Richard, that's just advice about writing in general.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Well... there's nothing that prevents a person from holding "Ayn Rand's ideas" as one's own. The ideas don't ultimately belong to anyone, except for everyone who holds them. And if an Objectivist were to create art, I shouldn't be surprised if that art reflected Objectivist ideas.

I don't think you're getting my point. Perhaps not being artists, some of you have no appreciation for the level of importance that good artists, Rand most emphatically included, place on independent originality. They see their art as being a very personal thing which reflects their uniqueness. If your goal is to create art for the purpose of promoting someone else's ideas, then you don't get it. You're not an artist. Maybe a teacher, propagandist or fanboy, but not an artist.

Can you see Howard Roark wanting to design buildings based on some other architect's ideas? Can you see him saying that Henry Cameron's architectural concepts were incredibly important, and that they need to be carried on and promoted, so that's what Roark is going to do -- he's going to build more Cameron-style buildings, and maybe some Cameron-style playgrounds and tree houses so that children can learn to appreciate the greatness of Cameron's ideas?

J

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Wow, I didn't expect this topic to explode overnight. Let me try to put some of these concerns to rest, and if you're still not satisfied with the answer, let me know.

Eiuol and Jonathan, I'm wondering why you question my "respect for the craft" and then point me at video games? I can't help but get the feeling you yourselves don't understand the craft. If that's the case, here are some tips: first, everyone has their own individual process. Some people jump on the typewriter and just start banging out pages, only to come back later and try to clean everything up after the fact through a series of revisions. Other people hash out a basic plot, then try to break that down to individual scenes, and then develop characters to fit the story as an afterthought. Still others develop the characters first in extreme detail, then base the story on the characters. The thing is, each of these (and other) approaches work, but they don't all work for everyone. I'm in the third group I mentioned. I develop my characters in depth, including their appearance, attitude, behavior (to include how they'd react to various situations), and even their ethnicity (based on their parents' ethnicities). Everything I write is character-driven.

Second, Jonathan said, "Can you see Howard Roark wanting to design buildings based on some other architect's ideas? Can you see him saying that Henry Cameron's architectural concepts were incredibly important, and that they need to be carried on and promoted, so that's what Roark is going to do -- he's going to build more Cameron-style buildings, and maybe some Cameron-style playgrounds and tree houses so that children can learn to appreciate the greatness of Cameron's ideas?" Let me expand upon this point, and see if you know what you've said and what you missed. Was it Roark who went to Cameron or was it Keating who went to him? And why for both? Roark didn't go to Cameron to instill something he didn't already have; he went there to hone his craft with the one person whose work he respected. We know this to be true becase Cameron told him his work was still wrong, and with guidance he helped Roark go from good to great. Had Keating tried for a job with Cameron, imagine how that would have turned out. My point is, you're taking this all out of order. You suspect I want to re-create Rand's work specifically for children. What you don't understand is that I'm not Keating going to see Cameron; I'm Roark going to see Cameron. I want to create things based on my own beliefs, but it's Rand whose writing helped me understand the details I had trouble naming in my own belief system. In other words, I'm writing for my own beliefs, many of which fall into line with strict Objectivism. Part of my writing is going to be for children though, and while my characters will hold certain values regardless who the audience is, the way I need to present those values has to differ based on the audience. Roark, Dagney, Kiera are all extremely complex characters. Had Rand written a children's book, how would she present those ideas and those values in a way children would grasp?

Respect for the craft...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't think you're getting my point.

Perhaps. Or maybe I just disagree.

Perhaps not being artists, some of you have no appreciation for the level of importance that good artists, Rand most emphatically included, place on independent originality. They see their art as being a very personal thing which reflects their uniqueness. If your goal is to create art for the purpose of promoting someone else's ideas, then you don't get it. You're not an artist. Maybe a teacher, propagandist or fanboy, but not an artist.

What you call "someone else's ideas," I'm saying are not someone else's ideas.

If you have ideas that are the same as Ayn Rand's, or anyone else's, then they are your ideas. And it doesn't matter if you got those ideas from reading The Fountainhead or whatever. Once you believe them -- once they're your ideas -- then they're yours.

And this doesn't discount any value of "originality." A person can express universal themes or ideas found in The Fountainhead or X other work (which are, in that sense, "unoriginal") through original plots, characters, etc.

So I'm saying that Novak here might not have a goal "to create art for the purpose of promoting someone else's ideas," but perhaps he wishes to create art for the purpose of promoting his own ideas, which are yet-Objectivist. Or, were I Norton Juster, and I wrote The Phantom Tollbooth to promote "rhyme and reason" in the world, I would not have invented those virtues, but it would still be my original art.

Can you see Howard Roark wanting to design buildings based on some other architect's ideas?

I think if Roark saw some architectural feature which he judged to be the best fit for his own project, that he would be a fool to "be original for its own sake" and refuse to design the best possible building by his own judgement. I think Roark went to school for architecture and studied many different forms and types of building, and it is based on that knowledge that his own "original" designs spring -- bits and pieces found elsewhere originally, but guided to a unique and new development by his personal aesthetic and the context of his projects. Roark did not invent windows, doors, ceilings, buttresses, etc. None of those elements are "original" to him. And if someone writes a new fiction expressing established Objectivist themes, it will be much the same.

Edited by DonAthos

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

"So I'm saying that Novak here might not have a goal "to create art for the purpose of promoting someone else's ideas," but perhaps he wishes to create art for the purpose of promoting his own ideas, which are yet-Objectivist."

You nailed it DonAthos. Thanks!

R. Ellis Novak

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Eiuol and Jonathan, I'm wondering why you question my "respect for the craft" and then point me at video games?

I did not mean to imply you don't respect writing. By the sounds of it now, you have quite a bit of experience. All I meant was that I don't know what your writing experience is. So, if it were relatively low experience, looking into other pieces of media to give your kids might be a great option. But if you have a lot of experience, I'll be curious to see about what ideas you have if you would like to share them. Video games weren't supposed to be insulting to mention - there are many video games which do express heroism and individuality.

Also, it's important to note that Rand did not write her books with the purpose of outlining a philosophy. She has said that explicitly. Rather, it's more like what DonAthos is saying about creating pieces of art that may incidentally have very strong themes particularly pertinent to Objectivism.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

What I mean is that someone like Beethoven or any other artistic person wouldn't just sit down one day and start working at making something as though it's like doing homework due the next day.

I agree, but I didn't get that impression from Richard's posts. He's laid out his ideas and is looking for critiques to help him along the way. Saying "you should just do something else and wait for a brilliant idea" isn't exactly constructive. :stuart:

Nor is Jonathon's unfounded accusation, "you're not an artist so you wouldn't understand," which is a total BS statement. Would you also call Terry Goodkind unoriginal because he's an Objectivist scifi writer? (Also, if you've seen any other Objectivist-type children's books before, please share.)

If I don't want my daughters to idolize Snookie and that sort of lifestyle, I have to give them something else to look up to.

I like the idea of a cinderella who doesn't just sit around waiting for her prince charming.. a story about a girl who finds meaning in things other than men. That is a children's story I would look forward to.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

No problems, anyone. I appreciate the critical nature of this discussion, and I hope you'll be equally critical when I start laying out the characters and the plot that follows. I think the story is going to be at once entertaining and thought-provoking.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...