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Duties Owed by a Writer

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Steerpike, Jan 9, 2017.

  1. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    I did also mention that I believe we have a duty to God / DoNoHarm (i.e., don't write KKK propaganda), then to family, then to society, then - if the others are handled - to work (or in this case the art). But I don't believe we need to push obligations onto people who aren't ready to meet them. Most people here, for instance, are still some of the basics about the art - it seems presumptuous to tell us we should be improving the art. Most of us lead limited lives and have a small audience - it seems presumptuous, to me, to tell us we need to worry about bettering society when we barely have readers.

    Yes, maybe we'll get to a point where those things become real to us. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. In terms of the moral duty of our writing, it really is negligible right now. That's just the reality. We're screaming into the void of the internet, and maybe a few people are listening, but even if they are, they're not listening closely enough for it to make a difference to them. Not yet at least.
     
  2. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Yes . . . I feel that individuals should feel some form of obligation if it begins to make a difference. But when you scale out, I would rather have my worldviews compete with others than forced onto them. I think that's better for everybody. Even if I believe I'm "right," I don't always see how wide the space for agreement is, and I find that to be true for others as well. It's better to have ideas interact openly, by far.
     
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  3. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

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    1. You write.
    2. You find an audience.
    3. Audience is receptive.
    4. To keep said audience interested you give them something that lands somewhere within the realm of their expectations.
    5. You start again at 1 and write something that focuses on a different audience. Or you stick with original audience.

    That about sums it up for me.
     
  4. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    My family and friends don't even care that I write. It's just my "thing" and none of them understand it. No one ever asks what I do all day except my husband LOL. I think it's pretty safe to say that the audience I write for doesn't consist of the people in my life. That said, I'm trying to find the people who like my writing. Mostly it's been dudes, interestingly enough. Anyway, I do care how my stories impact those who read them, but only in the sense that my stories entertain and inspire them somehow. That's my favorite thing about reading books, is being shown a world of wonder and adventure. I love books. It's why I write them. But my only obligation is to the reader who I envision liking my work. It's a game of assumptions but somehow it works.

    EDIT: The only right or wrong that exists in literature, in my opinion, lives within the boundaries of genre.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 10, 2017
  5. buyjupiter

    buyjupiter Maester

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    I find in my writing I mostly err on the side of caution & follow Wil Wheaton's advice re: don't be a d**k.

    I also follow that advice irl & the most common compliment I get is that I'm really nice, so.

    That said, I really really, no I mean REALLY think about my stories and how they'll appear from as many povs as possible. I do research about tropes to make sure I'm not unintentionally hitting stereotypes. This is where I think writers have a duty of care. Research enough to make sure you're not alienating potential segments of your audience.

    This isn't to say that horrible plot worthy things don't happen to my characters. They do. I just don't pile onto character types that are already marginalized, in very expected and stereotypical ways. (Loose example here, but I won't make my gay character story arc completely revolve around fantasy AIDS. And especially not the AIDS-->dying arc. I just won't do it.)
     
  6. Michael K. Eidson

    Michael K. Eidson Archmage

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    Okay, so the question is, disregarding legal mandates and promises made to readers, are there any inherent duties for an author?

    Let's compare an author to a camper setting up camp in the wild. What are the camper's duties to the camp site? Is it a duty of the camper to leave the campsite in no worse condition than it was before the camper arrived? If you believe so, then why does the same sort of duty not apply to authors who set up camp in a reader's mind for a short while and are gone when the reader finishes the book? If you don't believe a camper has a duty to the campsite, then if everyone else believed the same way as you and behaved accordingly, we could end up with lots of trashed campsites that are not a pleasure for others to visit.

    The problem for authors is that they can't know whether what they write is effectively trashing the reader's mind. Not everyone will agree with what constitutes trash. This is why we have genres and trigger warnings. So perhaps the duty of an author/publisher is to correctly identify the genre of each published work and to provide any appropriate trigger warnings. Any duty/responsibility beyond that may be on the reader.
     
  7. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    I said it before but I was wordy. I'll be succinct.

    It's not a duty. It's a choice. Choose wisely.
     
  8. Michael K. Eidson

    Michael K. Eidson Archmage

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    I suppose choosing wisely is only a recommendation, not a duty. :)
     
  9. It comes down to, I think, that your responsibilities and duties and obligations as a writer are personal. You can't apply or enforce them to everyone universally. But I know that *I* have them myself. And I adhere to them myself. They help guide (subconsciously or otherwise) what I write and how I write.

    As for the gay character...this is exactly what I'm wrestling with, or else I wouldn't have posted a thread about it. How do I avoid being hurtful to someone? How do I avoid mishandling something? And should I? Should I?

    Although, when I talked about negative effects, presenting differing opinions wasn't what I meant. I draw a line between mishandling issues, and handling the "wrong" ones (is the latter even possible?)

    Mishandling issues is a tricky thing to define too. But in the end, you cannot argue with complete moral relativism over a subject that centers on morality.

    Edit: morality, philosophy, beliefs...any of those, but it tends toward morality. You can't argue with any of it.
     
  10. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    I'm not sure that using a campsite as a metaphor for readers' minds is very good. Campsites can't get up and walk away or refuse to allow campers entry. Because they can't, campsites have zero responsibility in the transaction, are simply helpless victims—well, they are objects, not people.

    And the idea of repeatedly trashing a reader's mind being somehow harmful to other authors wanting a stay there...is actually creepy. That's like arguing for conditioning a reader's mind for the sole purpose of benefiting any author who wants access to it. If we are talking about violence, explicit sexual themes, or...whatever, this translates to the demand or request: "Hey! All these readers don't know how to appreciate my wholesome stories anymore! Not fair!" Heh, I don't know, but that's how the metaphor comes across to me, unless I'm misreading it.
     
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  11. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Yes, I think disregarding the agency of the reader is a mistake.
     
  12. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Here's a true story:

    I have an extended family member who is very sweet, extremely prone to nervousness and anxiety, and also highly religious. She's one of those who felt that the Harry Potter books should be kept away from children--out of schools, preferably not published at all from what I gather. This was a result of her religious viewpoint. Because she's so prone to anxiety and worry, the fact that kids were able to read these books (any kids, not just her own family) caused her distress. The idea caused stress, caused her problems with her "nerves," as she put it (and for which she has medication), and could even reduce her to tears. It's not something she was faking. We're talking actual physiological harm, to one degree or another, because of the Potter books and the subject matter thereof.

    Should you try to avoid hurting anyone at all? Even the single individual, no matter how sensitive they are, or whether their reaction to the work is reasonable? I don't think it makes much sense to even try to do that. If that were the standard, then we'd have to say Rowling should not have published Potter because it has a demonstrable negative effect on my family member (and, if on her, I presume other similarly situated).
     
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  13. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    Yeah, case in point, I had a similar experience as above with a popular book called "Love Anthony" about a woman dealing with the loss of her autistic son. My daughter has severe autism, so the book was recommended to me by a friend (who has neurotypical children).

    I couldn't finish it. Talk about traumatizing! It hit way to close to home (for me) and I felt that the woman's approach to writing about autism was not appropriate... however, people with no experience (and many people with experience) with autistic children loved it. Should I say that book should never have been published? That that writer didn't do her "duty" to me as a reader?

    No. I'm not that self-involved. I simply put it down when it got to be too much and returned it to my friend. End of story. It was not written for me.

    I don't need to complain to the author or the publisher. I certainly don't need "trigger warnings" on every book I pick up (don't even get me started on trigger warnings). I'm a big girl. I can make my own choices about what is appropriate for me and what isn't.
     
  14. Devouring Wolf

    Devouring Wolf Sage

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    The idea that as a writer I have a moral obligation to society to write something that won't cause harm has always confused me. I look at it as something of the other way around. If anyone has a moral duty, in my mind its that nebulous entity we call "society". Our society has embraced certain values and promotes them. Some of them are relatively constant like stealing is wrong, while others change like people's views on homosexuality. However not everyone in a society feels the same about everything (obviously). Some people will always be "ahead of their time" some people "old fashioned".

    What I'm trying to say is that there are people out there writing things I find objectionable every day. Most of these writing I will never encounter, there's so much out there and I'm not searching for it. When I do hear about something that's say horribly racist. I'm usually not hearing about it because its racist. I'm hearing about it because its racist and popular. In which case my question is not "How could someone have written this trash?" but instead "Why are people reading this trash?" In other words what does it say about our society that we're embracing something with these values.

    Now of course, it gets complicated because society is made up of individuals and writers are individuals who are part of a society so don't they have a responsibility to conform to the moral standards of their society? But I see it more as writers are individuals who's probably writing something that conforms to their own standards and hoping society will read their work and embrace what they have to say.
     
  15. I agree that there has to be a limit...but I have to mention that J.K. Rowling didn't cause your family member's anxiety problems. She could respond to anything in that way...

    There have to be limits both ways, though. If hurting people didn't matter, why would we, for example, try to avoid harmful, racist stereotypes when writing people of color? Why would we care that the way we portray a group of people is insulting and offensive? Why would we take time to ensure we aren't making those mistakes even on accident?
     
  16. I see the issue as if I myself have a responsibility, you might say. I believe that I, as a writer, have a responsibility. It's a personal conviction that I have. If others disagree, then I can't impose that upon them.

    So...guys, I'm not censoring anybody.

    edit: though I do believe all authors have a responsibility...it doesn't matter whatsoever since I can't decide what other people write.
     
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2017
  17. Devouring Wolf

    Devouring Wolf Sage

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    Except that not everybody does care and those who do can have vastly different views on what the "right way" to go about it is. For example, I don't believe stereotypes are harmful. I believe single stories are harmful. So while you might see my goal of creating more diverse and nuanced portrayals of people of colour as the same thing as limiting stereotypical portrayals I see them as vastly different things.

    More to the point, we take the time to portray issues that are important to us. When I took a writing class, one of the people in my critique group turned to me and said "the first thing I noticed about your story is that there are no women" which isn't precisely true, but there are very few women (like two minor characters are female and that's it). More female representation in fantasy is not a huge priority to me and it was to him even if he thought strong female character meant physically strong and not mentally strong.

    I'm kind of rambling now but what I was trying to say is that I object to the idea that there's an official line or some sort of duty to society. I believe in relative morality and if everyone's view of what's important to write and which lines shouldn't be crossed is different then it isn't a duty owed to some greater "society" but a personal duty and since each person is different some people might feel no obligation at all and who's to say that's not okay. The only duty a writer should feel in my opinion is to get words on the page.
     
  18. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    I believe that morality is like a game of tether ball, swinging back and forth around a common goalpost, often in response to the way your opponent hits the ball. But that common goalpost is what holds the game together.

    Just rambling.
     
  19. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    I wrote this story once (one of my faves, actually) that explored abusive relationships and finding love while in the midst of one. The novel was an absolute failure by every genre standard/expectation/tropes but I learned some important things writing it. I made betas and other readers I shared the book with (which was on Wattpad at the time) uncomfortable with some breakup/makeout scenes and some other adult scenarios. It was absolutely the wrongest story to put on a place like Wattpad but you know what? The people who liked it really liked it, while everyone else hated the heroine and her boyfriend because their relationship was so volatile. I didn't care if I offended anyone. He did some bad shit to her and she killed him in the end. I absolutely love that story and am considering rewriting it with a more marketable arc.

    The point is that we write as a form of self-expression and I seriously don't care who I offend. If something needs saying, I say it. I'm brown and I write mostly about white people. I don't care. I write straight characters because it's what I know and the stories I want to tell. I don't care if someone thinks I'm not inclusive. The only people I need to respect are the readers who want a good romance in fantasy setting. I can give them that. But I can't give them my best if I'm worried someone may be offended that I described an intimate act more than they liked.

    Who cares???
     
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  20. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    To me the duty arises from the social contract and the concept of the value of a community. The community gives value and benefit to you, and thus you should give something back. It arises from a larger set of duties to your fellow humans.

    The existence of moral duties is not something that requires legislation or is capable of objective proof. Moral duties are abstract things like love and justice, truth, beauty, virtue, good, evil etc.

    I only restrict it to my worldview because I am respectful of the fact that others might think these duties don't exist.
     
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