Monday, January 14, 2013

Ethics Part One

Happy Monday! Did I just hear a collective groan rise from my audience? Comeon, guys and gals, don't be like that! It's a new week and a chance to flex those creative muscles. I've chosen a heavy topic for today: Ethics. So, read along and join in the fun!

This is going to be a two part series. The first part will be about writing from life and how to keep from going too far and the second will be about writing from a story someone else wrote (commonly called fan fiction). Both have their own challenges and own group of people who believe strongly one way or the other. Please try and keep in mind this is only my opinion and should be taken with a grain of salt. If you believe otherwise, that's your prerogative. Keep the comments nice, please.

I always say you should write from life. Many of my characters and the situations they find themselves in come from life. I do believe there's a fine line that, when crossed, says you went too far.

But how to know when/if it was too far?

Here's my quick checklist to know if you've taken too many liberties:
  • If someone can read your story and know who you're talking about (not the individual the character was based on).
  • If many people could read your story and know a deep secret and who it belongs to.
  • If you use the name of the person you're writing about.
  • If the situations are exactly as you remember them and someone was humiliated or harmed in any way.
If any of the above are true, you may want to reconsider what you wrote.
Here's the way I do it:
  • I never ever describe the person my writing is based on exactly. I make changes to their appearance (brunettes may become blonde, shorter folks may become taller, etc...) and their personalities.
  • If it's a deep secret you were told in confidence, change the setting and the descriptions drastically (if it happened in a hotel - make it happen in a house, if it had two people - add a third person, if the situation included a discovery - change it so something similar but different was discovered, etc...).
  • I never use the names of the people involved. Ever.
  • I never expose someone else if they were humiliated or harmed in any way; even if the story is out of this world.

I have a great example of believable fiction writing! When people began reading Shelia, they asked me if that happened to me. It didn't; but I was able to make them believe I'd experienced it by the way I described the situations. I'm a student of human nature and am familiar with the reactions of those who have been put in tough positions. I listen when people talk. I empathize with them and try to walk in their shoes. Those situations in Shelia were pure fiction. No one ever told me a story like that. I've heard stories that were similar, but I would never have written those down. Because they weren't mine to tell.

Never talk to people; talk with them. Be a listener as well as a participant. In the age of Facebook and Twitter, it becomes all about me, me, me. Make it about them. This is a difficult skill to hone but, once you have it down, the world becomes your Google.

I once read an article about a photographer who had some great photographs of refugee women that had been beaten and raped. They were getting off a boat at the rescue mission where he was. He took their photos as they stepped from the boat but never published a single one. That photographer went on to win a Pulitzer for other photography work he did. Most likely, he could've gotten one with one of those images of the women. When he was asked why he never published them, his answer was: "Because the pain on their faces was so raw. They didn't need to be humiliated further by having those photographs published for the world to see." Ahhhh ethics at their finest.

Carry that with you as you write. Be like a doctor: Pledge first to do no harm.

Well, that's all for today, folks! Until next time, WRITE ON!



  1. I absolutely agree with you.I've written about real life situation and even the person I wrote about agree I did as you tell here. Thanks for the post. It's interesting.

    1. Thanks, L. Quint! Welcome to the blog. I'm interested to know what happened with that person and if they were upset or okay with what you did. How did that work out? Thanks for taking the time to comment :)

    2. Thanks for answering my comment, Jo Michaels.
      Well when I started writing in blog, after my friend had read my blog and had said she liked what I was doing, I asked if I could create a story from a part of her dairy she had shared with me long ago. She accepted with the condition that I wouldn't use real names. When I finished my story I shared it with her, and some days later I asked her impression. She was really sincere and said that at first she couldn't continue reading from the first lines on. Then she read it and told me that her story had happened almost as exactly as I have narrated it. I was surprised because I only used a part of her diary and made up the rest as I supposed her struggle must've been. She liked my story although it made her remember. she liked the way I created the story :)

    3. Hey I've got a gift for you. It's one lovely blog award picture. You can find it on my blog entry today. If you receieve the gift or prize :) you need to do two main tasks: share it with 8 bloggers whose blog you like, and share with us 8 things about yourself. Yo need to copy & paste the picture of the prize and put it in a blog entry and also link the other 8 blogs
      I've done it already, so you can check it here
      hope you like it

    4. Now that's what I call writing! You must've known your friend really well to be able to delve into her psyche and come up with exactly what she experienced without knowing what it was beforehand. I'm glad that worked out for you. Sounds like it was painful for her to read. That means it was very well done :) Thank you for the award and thanks so much for the mention on your blog! I am humbled. :)

  2. It's funny because usually I don't use people I know in my books, but so many people thought characters in my books were based on them. I certainly agree with your list of ethics =)

    1. Hahaha! That's funny, Heather! Do you think maybe you pulled a few characteristics from those folks and they recognized those? Maybe even subconsciously? Thanks for agreeing. Writing things that are so controversial gives me the heebie-jeebies because I don't want to seem crass or like I think my opinion is the do-all be-all of the world. :)

  3. Great post today. When Mom & I were writing a book, we had a difficult line to maintain. We changed dates, people's descriptions, NAMES (always!), and circumstances. But the heart of the story was our own. But, to capture the honesty of it, we did have it in the same town, but different years. Looking back, I probably would have changed that, too. And I would have changed details about the characters (like family backgrounds) more. But, all in all, I think we maintained the level of fiction vs. reality that we wanted.

    Usually, we did all of this to protect the guilty! ;-)

    1. Thanks, Tia! Good to see you around here :) It's tough to spin fiction from reality and not overstep bounds. I had to step away from a project that was hitting WAY too close to home. I need to change a lot of stuff in that book.

      And, yes, to protect the guilty... LOL!


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