Monday, February 4, 2013

Ethics and fiction writing

When writing a story from ideas in your head, a lot of things come into play that will vary with genre. Readers expect certain things from a mystery that will be different than from chick lit. If you are writing in a genre that is action oriented, a lot of emotional reaction isn't required. Some stories barely give you the motivations of the main protagonists; and you see what they are by what they do-- if the writer stays consistent.

Romances have action, dialogue, and the inner workings of the character's thinking. These books resolve how people will do certain things, what their reactions will be, how they will feel after they make choices, and that's an important part of any romance from Jane Austin to Nicholas Sparks. There might be different styles involved, some with more emphasis on dress and behavior and others with even violent actions, but in the end, a romance (the best of them) will be about emotional reactions and even ethical choices.

When I have the most problems reading someone else's romances is when they ignore ethical actions. They might let a hero or heroine behave in a way that is an abomination, but it's supposed to be okay because they are the hero/heroine. Say what! I suppose some with male heroes has come from the rise of the anti-hero. But even an anti-hero has to have an ethical code to find sympathy from most readers/viewers.

So when I am writing a story as I am right now, ethics is an important aspect with which I off and on wrestle. Sure I need to get tenses correct, spelling right, sentence structure making sense (although perfecting of that comes later with editing), but ethics are big to me. I want my characters to act logically-- even when they sometimes make mistakes. And when they have acted unethically, I want them to be aware of it at least eventually.

 Image rights purchased from CanStock

On the current book, I have a lot of this kind of thinking going on as there are some big ethical questions for the hero and heroine. She faces hers not only because of her period in history but from those any culture puts onto its people. Cultures encourage obedience and punish by different methods disobedience of its rules. Some of this probably is human nature and some about power and survival. The more options a culture permits, the more confusing life can be.

As a woman of the 1880s in the West, my heroine has lived by rules and pretty much edged around what isn't okay-- like visiting an occult shrine or going to a psychic. She is 25 and unmarried by choice, again something a genteel lady would not be doing unless she's staying home taking care of aging parents. Obviously by her choices, she is going against the stream but how far is she willing to go in doing that?

She might have been able to avoid resolving that question except life isn't letting her on several levels. A big one is when she is attacked (won't go into details of what happens but it's not a rape), and she must decide whether to bring charges against the perpetrator or hide what happened to save what's left of her reputation. It's not exactly a problem unique to her times but made harder when women had less rights, couldn't vote, certainly not hold public offices and even the right to own property hadn't been held all that long.

So the story had gone along quite well until I got to this sticky situation. It's easy, as a writer, to turn a major protagonist into a symbol for what is right to do and make it turn out that way... or even go the other way... but better writing is to make it seem inevitable as a choice and that the character would actually do this-- whether it's the best choice or not. That's something I am taking some time to decide. It's not exactly a road block as I know what comes after, but I want to get this part right-- which to me is what good writing is all about.
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1 comment:

Diane Widler Wenzel said...

What is ethical to one may be questionable to another. A writer must always keep in mind who will be reading their writing. another way is to only write for what is right for you.