I would like to integrate the concept of "Nietzschean affirmation" in my short story. What are the typical ways to go about it? I don't want to put it there in plain sight, but make it obvious enough for an astute reader to see my intention.

I am asking how to integrate philosophical concepts regardless of whether they are controversial or not.

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    If I can add a suggestion, I think the answer will be very different if you assume the reader is familiar with the philosophy or if you are trying to introduce them to it.
    – wetcircuit
    Commented Feb 11, 2019 at 17:20
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    Could you define it in your own words so we can help with your assessment of what it means?
    – hszmv
    Commented Feb 11, 2019 at 17:30
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    Do you want to build a story around a philosophical concept, or just explain it along the way?
    – Alexander
    Commented Feb 11, 2019 at 17:43
  • Hi puffofsmoke, this is a good question, but it has been asked several times before. Please check these previous questions: writing.stackexchange.com/questions/28603/… Promoting controversial opinions in a work of fiction writing.stackexchange.com/questions/31807/… Commented Feb 11, 2019 at 17:56
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    I retracted my close vote, but I still think those questions linked are relevant. Commented Feb 11, 2019 at 20:11

3 Answers 3


Here are the standard ways, from most to least direct:

1) Characters explicitly explain the philosophy. This can come across as preachy and forced. People tend to respond to it better if the character isn't presumed to be a stand in for the author's own views, or if there are other ways of preventing this from coming across as WORD OF TRUTH. For instance, the television show Blackish does a lot of consciousness raising around issues of race, but because the POV character is presented as a pushy blowhard, his preachiness is consistent with his character, and made entertaining.

2) The characters act in accordance with this philosophy. Nobody ever says "we're exemplifying "Nietzschean affirmation" but they make the choices someone who believes that philosophy would make. This can still seem heavy-handed, and its realism may depend on how compelling an individual reader finds the philosophy.

3) The events in the story are a metaphor for the philosophy. Think the parables of Jesus for an example. The story is that the sower plants the seeds, some grow, some don't. The philosophy is that you spread the message widely, and whether or not people are responsive will depend on them and their circumstances. This can be difficult to pull off in a believable longer work.

4) The events in the story exemplify the philosophy. For example, even though it never mentions the philosophy, the movie The Incredibles dramatizes the concept of the Nietzschean Ubermensh. Similarly (if a bit more explicitly) the movie Little Miss Sunshine debunks the same philosophy.

5) The aesthetic of the story arises from the philosophy. This more comes from when you, the writer naturally write out of an internalized concept of art that arises from a specific philosophy (whether you are trying or not). This is more a matter of themes than of specifics. For instance, compare and contrast a classical tragedy, an existentialist novel and a post-modernist short story. They all have different aesthetics based on their philosophical commitments. The things they pay attention to are different.

  • This is actually the kind of answer I was looking for. Thanks! Commented Feb 11, 2019 at 20:28
  • For point number 5, what's an aesthetic? Commented Feb 11, 2019 at 21:26
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    An aesthetic is a concept of what is good and/or beautiful art. The classical aesthetic is simple, strong lines, very structure based, everything in harmony. The post modern aesthetic is things broken down, questioned, taken apart. merriam-webster.com/dictionary/aesthetic#dictionary-entry-2 Commented Feb 11, 2019 at 21:42
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    Pretty much everything one should know. A great answer.
    – Liquid
    Commented Feb 12, 2019 at 8:08

If your pov character is not a philospher, you can bring him to a moment of realization, where the causality of all things and the interconnectedness of all creation is briefly perceived; then rip that higher vision away from him, plunging him back down into mundane life. If after that event he takes on a new world view, enlightened by what he now knows to be true, then you will have touched upon Neitzche's idea without directly using his words. Meanwhile, your character will have been completely transformed, opening the doors to a variety of different plotting possibilities.

If you want to be more obvious than that, you can have a different, more scholarly character, describe your pov character's event as an "affirmation". Such a reference should pull on your reader's recollection if they have ever encountered Neitzche before.


So from my understanding, you need to demonstrate that to the character who is reflecting this affirmation, they accept both the pains and pleasures of life because both experiences are equally valuable. This is manifest in the often told story of the child who is putting sea stars back into the ocean. When it's pointed out to the child by an adult that there are so many sea stars on the beach that washed up for the recent storm and that the boy's efforts won't matter because most of the sea stars will die, the boy responds by picking up a sea star and flinging it back into the ocean. He then tells the adult, "It mattered to that one."

Probably the best summation of the idea comes from the titular character of the Television Show Angel. After getting a pretty harsh lesson that in the grand macro-scheme of things, Angel's missions and existence aren't much of anything, Angel comes to to the epiphany: "If nothing we do matters, then all that matters is everything we do." If nothing we do is important, than the most important thing in life are the actions we take and what we do with our lives.

Possibly one story that takes this and runs is "Forrest Gump" who's titular character seems to stumble through the back half of the 20th century. His life story is woven into that of great people, events, and innovations throughout the century, yet Gump seems to undersell what many people would think is a signficant event in his life. For example, Forest Gump has personally been honored by Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon, all of whom had a major influence in their time... but Forest doesn't seem to care much about it. By the time he meets Nixon, Gump narrates it as if it's a chore to meet the President ("So I got to go to the White House, AGAIN. And I met the President, AGAIN). Where he shows the most emotional investment in his stories are when they involve people he cares about... As a narrator, he's at his happiest when he narrates about meeting Jenny and at his most despairing upon losing people he cares about (Bubba, His Mother, Jenny) and seems to register emotionally with people are lost to their loved ones (like he doesn't really make a connection with Kennedy, but he's emotionally upset by the fact that someone wanted to kill not only him, but his little brother. Similarly, he meets John Lennon of the Beatles, he doesn't even know why the guy was famous and refers to him as "some man from England" but does have some emotional weight when reflecting on Lennon's murder and the effect it had on Lennon's son.).

Gump's has personal and shared tragedies in the world and frame where the world is throughout the story, but he rarely mentions what he was doing during the death of the famous people he met... though other tragedies are reflected in television (Nixon gives his farewell address in the background as is the attempt on President Regan's life). Meanwhile, he never has a moment of enjoyment in major milestones ignoring such things as the Moon Landing and thinking about Jenny while the rest of New York rings in the New Year. The moments where he is happy are entirely personal to him and have little effect on the narrative beyond Forest's own personal story. The entire narrative, is in effect, from the point of view of a man facing another tragedy, but remembering that life still has plenty of moments that will make him happy. Particularly touching was in the finale, Jenny asks him about all the amazing sights he's seen and he reflects on the beauty of the world and the places and things he got to experience. Jenny laments that she wished she could have been there with him, but Forest tells her in all of those moments, she was always there for him... from the worst nights during his tour of duty in Vietnam, to moments he was working through emotional woes, to the times where his life was at peace. In each joy and each tragedy of his life, Forest thinks Jenny in those moments.

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