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  1. hawls

    hawls Active Member

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    Do we have a responsibility?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by hawls, Jul 21, 2016.

    Do we have a responsibility as writers to consider how our characters, ideas and the way we express them could impact our readers?

    Should we have an idea of what our characters represent? Should we be aware of the innate symbolism in the elements we use?

    If we cannot justify why we chose to write something a particular way, no matter what it might be, no matter how small a part it plays in the overall scheme of our story, have we really written anything of value to anyone?

    Is this a philosophical matter or intrinsic to the craft of writing?
     
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  2. Mumble Bee

    Mumble Bee Custom Title. Contributor

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    Absolutely; You can dig up gold, but not knowing what it is, or doing it on accident doesnt take away from the fact that its gold.
     
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  3. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale "Cue the artillery" Contributor

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    I've been pondering a similar question myself. I write horror, but I wonder from time to time about the morality of writing horror stories based on real-life tragedies. There are all sorts of theories as to why people like to read/watch horror, but is it moral to capitalize, either financially, or in less tangible ways such as name-recognition ("fame") on the suffering of real human beings. Does the passage of time serve as a mitigating factor?

    Don't have any answers to your questions or my own, but you're not alone in wondering.
     
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  4. KaTrian

    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Do you mean like, is the author to be blamed if their reader gets inspired by their story and commits some horrendous crime? 'cause I think for the most part, no they couldn't be blamed, but it might get fuzzy if the book is explicitly telling people to do horrible things because that's the right thing to do. I don't think I'd still cast blame on the writer 'cause a book cannot force anyone to do anything, the only thing it does is instill ideas, so in the end the blame is on the person who committed the crime.
     
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  5. Wayjor Frippery

    Wayjor Frippery Contributing Member Contributor

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    Interesting question. It's equivalent to this:

    Do we have a responsibility as human beings to consider how our behaviour could impact other human beings?

    Both are moral questions, so their answers will be opinions not facts.

    My opinion is that yes, one does have a responsibility to consider others (given that we're a social species and all). How that consideration affects one's actions is a different question. I don't know the answer to that.

    [more opinions...]

    If you are trying to make art (as opposed to commercial fiction, say) with your words, then yes, you should.
    Sure, why not? Once it's written it's not yours any more; it's the reader's (and you don't get to Skype them and explain yourself).
    It may be philosophical. Or or it may be three-o'clock-in-the-morning-with-a-joint-having-stared-too-long-at-the-lava-lamp. Far out, man. [irony]

    Who knows?

    Who cares? [not rhetorical]

    --------

    ETA: I'm struggling here. My last question was not meant to devalue the OP, but I get lost with discussions like this (as interesting as they are) because I don't know how to have them without despairing of the pretentiousness of it all. Discussions like this are interesting (I think so), but they are also pretentious elitist waffle. How's that for cognitive dissonance?

    How do you talk about art without sounding like a twat? (me not @hawls)

    Sorry, I should probably delete all this, but I'll stand by my diatribe, even though I don't trust it myself.
     
    Last edited: Jul 21, 2016
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  6. BayView

    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree with most of what @Wayjor Frippery said, at least above the dashes.

    I agree we have a responsibility to consider the impact of our actions on the world, whether as writers or just as human beings. We should strive to make the world a better place, or at least not a worse place. But that doesn't necessarily mean we shouldn't write certain things or in certain ways. We should just think about it.

    And should we be aware of symbolism, etc.? I would say this is just as important in commercial fiction as it is in "artistic" fiction - in both cases the symbolism and representations are there to send a message to readers, and I want to know what messages I'm sending. In my opinion successful commercial fiction may need to be more aware of this than literary fiction - commercial readers aren't necessarily going to work as hard to figure out the author's true intent, aren't as likely to analyze and consider things for themselves. So if the writer wants the message to get across, that will have to be done more consciously, possibly less subtly, in order to work.

    That said, I don't think we need to justify ourselves or our work to anyone. It is what it is. I think we'd probably be more responsible and effective if we had a conscious understanding of what we're doing, but that doesn't mean a story is completely valueless if we can't.

    I'd say this is both a philosophical matter and intrinsic to the craft of writing. I don't honestly have a lot of sympathy for writers who say they write just for themselves--no, that's not true--I don't have a lot of sympathy for writers who write for themselves and then share their work with the expectation of praise. Writing is about communication, and for communication to be effective you need to keep your audience in mind. We don't have the luxury of two-way communication in most writing, so it behoves us to put a lot of thought into the one chance we have to send the message we want in its most effective form.
     
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  7. Wayjor Frippery

    Wayjor Frippery Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah, the bit below the dashes was a crisis of confidence. @BayView, you said it better.
     
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  8. ToBeInspired

    ToBeInspired Contributing Member

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    I mean... depends on the subject matter.

    Unless you're Tolkien you're not going to make a huge impact by writing a fantasy novel. Without the movie adaptions it wouldn't have been nearly as well known. Simple fact is people read less and less. Eventually the written form may even become archaic with advents in technology. Why write if there's a device that allows telepathy? Why read when you can immerse yourself in a virtual reality setting? Same principles though.

    Very few books have changed the world. With more and more authors, it's less likely yours will. I guess you could still affect some of people's lives, but so could a conversation. That's just human interaction. A responsibility? No Spidey, it's not all on your shoulders.

    Don't get me wrong, it doesn't hurt to think along those lines. Just don't let it shape WHO you are.

    It's kind of like actors and how they have a public image they try to maintain. Be the bad boy or the good girl. A leading role model for everyone. Kind of can inflate a person's ego, but sounds stressful if you ask me.

    I write for myself. I write myself. Every sentence was my thought, my idea, a piece of me displayed for everyone to see. I'm not looking to push myself on others I'm looking to express myself TO others. I'm sharing myself, communicating who I am. Do I feel responsible? Only for myself. One man can't shoulder the world. I can only try to be the best me that I can, you know?
     
  9. thirdwind

    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    The reader will interpret the piece however he or she wants. The writer has no control over that. So feel free to consider the implications of your writing, but you may end up being disappointed. :)
     
  10. hawls

    hawls Active Member

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    Consider how an author represents someone from a minority. Does the writer really have no control over how that character could be received by the audience?
     
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  11. thirdwind

    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Well, the author has some control in that he can say what he meant to do, but the reader doesn't have to believe him (to paraphrase the literary critic Lionel Trilling).
     
  12. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    No, you don't have a responsibility.

    However, if you're unaware of symbolism and the other factors mentioned above, it will make you a lesser writer.
     
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  13. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    Influence, yes. Control, no. The reception will vary from reader to reader, sometimes greatly.
     
  14. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    When your brain is exposed to some piece of information, your brain believes it is true. That's why clouds look like two-headed cat dragons, or why you get the same adrenaline rush from your favorite football team winning the Super Bowl that you would get from being one of the players: your brain can't tell the difference between what looks/sounds to be true, what it imagines could be true, and what it knows from logic to actually be true, and it takes a conscious effort to remind oneself of what is actually true in the face of a lie.

    If enough people are committed to spreading the same lie all day everyday, then a person at the receiving end of the lie might eventually lose the energy to remind himself of the truth. Saying "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me" in a world where so many children are bullied into killing themselves is just a fancy way of blaming the victim.

    If somebody's life sucks because millions of people are united in their campaign to structure the world as though there were something wrong with the person's appearance, gender, nationality, religion, orientation, physical/mental health state, level of employment ... then why would it be so important to an author that he be allowed write something confirming the lie that has ruined the real person's life? Why wouldn't the author want to tell the truth instead?

    Is appealing to the lowest common denominator ("gays are perverts" "Muslims are murderers" "women are sex toys (unless they try pretending to be people, then they become bitches)" "blacks are criminals" "Jews are greedy") for a quick buck really more important than another human's life?

    "All that is required for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing."
     
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  15. BayView

    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    The author has control in that she can chose the best words to convey her message, she can be aware of likely misinterpretations, etc. Nobody has total control, but we aren't just throwing random words into the ether. We have some idea of our audience, and hopefully we have some idea of the best way to communicate with them. No?
     
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  16. thirdwind

    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    True.
     
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  17. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    Duties and responsibilities typically derive from some source. They don't just exist in the aether. What is the source from which an author has a responsibility to write other than what she wants to write?
     
  18. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Human empathy, an organ for understanding the importance of other people.
     
  19. BayView

    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Just being a human being?

    Like, if you're walking along and you see someone fall in the river and start drowning, you have a moral duty/responsibility to help that person. You don't have to risk your life to do it, but you should try to get help, at least. Right?
     
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  20. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    Is that a responsibility? And in what context is it judged? For example, there are many classics that offended the sensibilities of people at the time of writing, and much later became highly regarded. Are you suggesting that authors have a duty to write within the confines of the social mores and sensibilities of the day? That doesn't sound good to me.
     
  21. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    I think you should (in other words, that's the value judgment I make, and which I'm free to make). However, if we can get legalistic for a moment, you don't actually have a duty or responsibility under the law to help unless you're responsible for that person's predicament somehow.

    Maybe it's splitting hairs too fine, but I'm looking at the difference between what we might agree someone ought to do, and what they have some responsibility or duty to do.
     
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  22. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Exactly the opposite. When the social mores of your day are a lie that hurt people, why would you want to go along with it?
     
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  23. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Re symbolism:

    When you wake up from a fascinating dream, you don't say (at least I hope you don't) "Well, that could have been some fascinating symbolism, but I didn't flowchart it in advance, so it wasn't."

    Symbolism is a way of tapping into the countless threads of meaning that the brain can perceive but can't force into a linear, language-based explanation. If symbolism could be thoroughly explained, or even thoroughly planned, you wouldn't need symbolism.
     
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  24. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    I think this sort of thing leads to infinite rabbit holes. Where do you start with this? Whose opinion are you meant to empathize with? At what point does it become a responsibility?

    For example, I have a relative in the south who is extremely religious, and on top of that has a lot of nervous anxiety that she has to be treated for. Anything that she feels goes against her Southern baptist view of God causes her harm. She's not making it up, it has actual effects on her mental states. She worries herself over that kind of stuff and ends up at the doctor. One of the things that really worries her is depictions of LGBT as normal in television, writing, or pop culture generally. I think she's nuts, basically, but this stuff really does do harm to her.

    I have a lesbian character in my current story. Should I take her out, knowing that if my relative read the story she'd not only be bothered by it but would be extremely stressed out worrying about me. What about the others I don't know who are similarly situated?

    What people are really saying is "An author has a responsibility to consider the values, ideas, and expression I value, but not so much what the other guy values." Which is meaningless, ultimately. It gets us back to "Write what you want to write," which is my position. You don't have a responsibility to the marketplace, but neither does the marketplace have a responsibility to you. If you fall flat on your face, so be it.
     
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  25. BayView

    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, I generally think of the law as being the absolute minimum expected of me as a human being, not the maximum.

    Humans have loads of responsibilities that extend beyond what's legally required.

    So, yeah, we aren't legally required to care what message we're sending in our writing. But that doesn't mean we don't have a responsibility - to ourselves as well as to others.
     

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