1. spidersmakegravy
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    spidersmakegravy New Member

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    manipulating details of a shady hobby

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by spidersmakegravy, Jun 18, 2014.

    I wasn't sure where to put this, because it doesn't really have to do with any kind of development. It's a moral issue, I guess.

    Ok, here goes.

    I have a character, let's call her A.

    She grows magic mushrooms and is very interested in all of that. According to her, it is perfectly safe as long as you're responsible and don't judge because alcohol is way worse. Ok. Her opinion.

    Now, I watched a documentary where they talked about psychedelic substances and it's history. The claim was made that the bread they ate at the last supper was in fact a bread contaminated with a kind of mushroom (ergot) that grows on rye, so the bread was psychedelic.

    This would interest A quite a lot, because she is also a (non-practicing) Catholic.

    I googled this, of course, wanting to find out if it was as harmless as the documentary claimed, because I really do try to have an un-biased view on the subject.

    Apparently there's something called ergotism, which is not at all a pleasant thing to experience. So you don't just get funny visions, you get terribly sick as well.

    The moral issue is this: As a writer, I am free to manipulate details the way I see fit, am I not? Artistic license. I really like the idea of A trying to make psychedelic bread (perhaps she thinks that everything will fall into place at last, that it explains why all those Sundays at the mass never did anything). But I don't want her to make a bread that causes ergotism, because it's not in line with my tone I suppose. (Although, maybe at some point I will change my mind, but assume that I don't want to do that right now.)

    But if I write it as if it's not as bad as it really is, is that irresponsible of me? Does it make me come off as biased and pro-psychedelics, even?

    Of course I could say she used another kind of mushroom, but I really like that this ergot-bread has a basis in reality.

    Or I could say that you have to eat so-and-so much to get ergotism. Or that it's safe if you treat it a certain way.

    Thoughts?
     
  2. prettyprettyprettygood
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    prettyprettyprettygood Active Member

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    I've just had a very quick Google and it seems that ergot is a very nasty business - if posters on drug forums are warning people not to mess with the stuff it must be pretty bad!

    So in my opinion if your book is set entirely in the 'real world' you should stick with the real world properties of ergot, otherwise you risk people knowing about it or looking it up and getting irritated by the misrepresentation. It's a cool idea with the religious connection, but if you can find a way to do it without her actually using a reasonably well-known poison I'd say that would be best.
     
  3. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Excellent question. I myself struggled with it when I was developing an idea for a story about drugs, and one of the questions I face most often when developing any idea is whether to be realistic, or to take artistic license in order to explore an unrealistic idea. (After all, the purpose of fiction is to explore ideas that we do not encounter in real life.)

    I will do my best to address both the details and the principle.

    Details: you probably do not need to take much artistic license. Magic mushrooms are psilocybin mushrooms, which are unrelated to ergot, Claviceps purpurea. Only ergot contains the alkaloids that cause ergotism.

    But if you really want the character to use ergot specifically due to its connection to the last supper, then you can mitigate the nastiness of it. She is interested in psychedelics in general, so she already has the mindset that a little bit of risk is okay in the name of experimentation. She could try just a little bit of ergot bread just one time, which should not cause poisoning, because ergotism is the result of buildup, rather than an acute reaction to a small dose (like ricin).

    Maybe she even compares ergot to psilocybin (drug experimenters tend to compare drugs) and decides that psilocybin provides a better experience.

    Principle: I generally prefer realism over artistic license. Fantasy and science fiction aside, it is inexplicably satisfying to see something work in fiction the same way it works in real life. In the case of drugs, it is interesting when a story takes an honest look at them and contrasts characters who accept the risks of drugs, with characters who are anti-drug. Two of my three favorite TV shows, The Wire and Breaking Bad, are about the drug trade, and they are ultra-realistic.

    Personally, I believe in legalizing all drugs, but I am under no impression that they are all harmless. (Only some of them are.) It is because I believe in the principle that self-harm is not a legitimate reason for government intervention. The war on drugs is an attack on freedom, a waste of government resources, and a cause of violence.

    If you really want to write a pro-drug (more precisely, pro-freedom) story that does not look at drugs through rose colored goggles, then it would be a bold and worthwhile statement to depict both the benefits and the risks of drugs, and to depict the nasty consequences that come about when people lose their freedom to use drugs. That is a big reason why The Wire is my second favorite TV series.
     
  4. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    You are mixing two things here: Psilocybin mushrooms, known as 'magic mushrooms' which have been used by humans since cave-times to induce psychedelic experiences, and are remarkably non-toxic to the body but in high doses they can cause intense fear which can lead to dangerous decision making, and Claviceps purpurea fungus which is a poisonous ergot alkaloid fungus that can grow on grasses and rye, that has caused poisonings when ingested in high doses (or moderate doses over the long period of time). This was known as ergotism or St Anthony's Fire, which is a truly nasty thing to experience with mania, psychosis, diarrhoea, vomiting, convulsions and gangrene.

    You said she is growing magic mushrooms, and believes they are safe if used cautiously, and she is right, current research supports that. As far as the fungi that cause ergotism, it's got nothing to do with magic mushrooms, and I guess if she figured out what causes ergotism she'd have a moral obligation to let others know, because that knowledge would save lives.

    To put it simply, if she's already growing psilocybin mushrooms, I see no use for ergot alkaloid fungus, unless it's used as a poison.
     
  5. criticalsexualmass
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    criticalsexualmass Active Member

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    Ergot is nasty. I used to farm cattle and have heard of them dying in nasty ways from ergot poisoning. If it can kill a cow, well...Damn.

    As for the op's original question, which is about artistic license...I think you are suggesting that she make an ergot laced bread, as a spiritual or psychedelic experiment. Hell, why not? you may want to make her a little sick too, to keep it realistic. If you take too much license it harms the work, because some of your readers will know about the topic and put it down because "you don't know what you're writing about." Keep it realish, if that's even a word.
     

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