Politicians, Writers and Morals – oh, my…

Balance

Fiction and Truth - Balanced? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As fiction writers, we tend to think we can write anything without too much care. I mean, really, we are making it all up, right? However, it helps to check our facts on occasion, as I discovered the other day when I mislabeled the RCMP. A kind reader caught the error and let me know about it in a very gracious way (thanks btw!)¬† Of course, we need to stay away from libel issues, too. Getting too personal in our writing is a slippery slope and I, frankly, don’t have the money for bail, let alone a decent solicitor.

Here in the States, we are in the throes of an election year. In countless commercials, facts are twisted, statements are taken out of context, and some things are probably outright invented, all in the name of proving one candidate is good and the other evil. Who writes these commercials? And how is this different from my concerns about truth and accuracy?

So what responsibility do we have, as fiction writers at least, in portraying our characters in a truthful way? Let me explain. In Witt Kepler, the main character is an alcohol-fueled, nicotine addicted private detective. His female acquaintance makes her living as a prostitute. Another character’s sexual orientation will cause misunderstanding and personal turmoil. And these are just the good guys.

While it would be easy to play off the addictions and such using stereotypes, is this really, morally, what we as writers should be doing?

I think exploring the issues¬† by seeing how the characters deal with their problems will only enhance the characterization. How many of my readers have had problems with alcohol or cigarettes? Or know someone who has had those problems? While I do not have first hand experience with the sex trade industry, I have it on good authority that it is an awful place to find oneself, with brutality, inhumanity and hopelessness at every turn. Is it fair, or more accurately stated, morally correct to ignore these issues in my “fiction” writing?

Heavy subjects for a Saturday night, but it has been a heavy kind of week.

What think you?

4 comments

  1. This is a good post DJ, and offers much to think about. I’m a much better reader of fiction than writer of it, but I know what I like and I do listen to what other writers have to say about this. I find the more realistic the character, the better I like them…with all of their not so nice and politically incorrect parts. As a writer, trying not to stereotype is a daily effort, but certain things are just a given and we want our characters to be true to type–the good, the bad and the ugly.

    I think as we write, certain parts of our characters are truth of type–a liar is a liar, a drunk is a drunk, but there are variations to form and degree etc.; and when we write about something as real as the RCMP some parts need to be true but other parts of that can be twisted truth–that’s fiction. We can also make up our own entities…

    And yes, if we were to write about a real someone or entity, and change the name to protect the guilty, we could still be sued royally. You have to be careful of that fine line as a writer.

    As a smoker who is still trying to quit the nasty habit, I see truth in what Witt does when he lights up in different situations. You reach for a cig in a stressful moment, or as he did in the office building without thinking sometimes…force of habit…that makes Witt more real to me. I can’t identify with the drinking, or what it is to be a prostitute in trouble but again, I can identify to a degree because of what I know otherwise from newspaper accounts…there’s truth in the story.

    And, over and over again I’ve read other published writers say we can’t be concerned about offending “The Ladies Society” or society in general when we write about the real life nasties. I think what would be morally corrupt is to a)Write to purposefully hurt someone b)Write what isn’t true to a personality type–glossing over the truth.

    That fine line…

    1. Indeed. What got me thinking about all of this was my treatment, or lack of treatment, of “Kamianka” in regards to her profession. I have not gone into how she got to her position in life or what she is dealing with, other than what has already been written. Since I have no personal reference about anything dealing with prostitution, I wasn’t going to delve into it much, but take her character along while reducing the emphasis on her line of work. However, one of my readers is an actual escapee/survivor of the sex trade industry. Her blog is very informative about that “world” and shows how little most of us know about it. After reading about her experiences, I feel compelled to develop Kamianka’s character to include the realities of the situation.

  2. It’s incredibly difficult not to write people we know, is it not? I would have some incredibly interesting characters…. I don’t think we can avoid it.

    1. You are right, it is very difficult. My Witt Kepler series is totally fictitious, however my current novel, Hell in High Heels, has many characters that were based on bits and pieces of real people from my past. In editing, I am changing whatever I can to obscure things as much as possible without losing the uniqueness of their character. If the book ever gets published, I know they will read it due to the subject matter. I also know they will all try to figure out who everyone is. It’s a fine line and I hope not to cross it!

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