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The Way Things Are, Could Be, and the Role of Fiction

I don’t write these kinds of posts often… but, well… I just can’t not, this time…

I’m going to say some stuff that people won’t agree with. That’s fine. Say I’m wrong, I’ll listen, and I’ll consider. That’s as much as I can promise.

Amid all this rape culture media coverage (earlier in the year with the boys in the US and more recently with, shamefully, NZ’s own), I have realised that as I happened to include sexual assault in HEALER’S TOUCH it is a responsibility of my characters to deal with it in a realisitic, and hopefully healthy way.

Something I have been realising with fiction: it’s one thing to go out there and say, “Look, this is a bad guy doing bad things, we blew him up… that’s what happens when you do bad things… but, look, this good guy isn’t totally shiny, but he’s not that bad, so he’s cool”… But what about saying “Here… this is how it could be done… grow up like this guy/gal”? Just a thought I’ve been having.

It’s a tough one. Because to go out there and design a character, or three, that you think are the best role models for the world is to assume that you know best… which, well, who can?

I like to think that Jonas is a good role model. He’s a typical alpha male – physically superior, aloof – but he knows how to respect the ladies. Sure, he wasn’t all that smart in sleeping with Llew so soon after meeting her, but he wasn’t going to go out there and brag about his conquest. It was just something they shared.

Is Llew a good role model? I don’t know. I guess I’d like to think so. She strives to do the right thing, and sometimes that’s all any of us can do.

Now, Anya… she’s a good role model. She’s smart, considerate… she’s the kind of person I would like to be, if I could free myself of my vices of fairly regular bouts of selfishness and laziness… She’s almost too perfect. But, you know what? The world needs a few perfectionists when it comes to morality.

Thing is, a common thread I noticed in reviews of The Twilight Saga and Fifty Shades of Gray (ignoring writing quality for a moment) was the question of what kind of role models these men were… and sure, these books weren’t for a male public, but the expectation the female readers walk away with has the same effect… These girls/women, learn to accept men with unhealthy attitudes to love and sex. Well, some (most??) do. Many people are capable of reading these stories and critiquing the behaviours portrayed and knowing it’s not for them. But there is no doubt that the whole idea of fiction is to sweep you away and get you lost in the story… A much easier way to get you to switch off and just accept what’s happening.

If women don’t expect to be treated with respect, and men don’t expect to have to treat women (people in general, of course) with respect, then we get… well… this: What Kind Of Man…?

We all know that constantly telling a child “No! Don’t do that!” teaches them little, while saying “That’s not working for you, how about you do it this way…” can do a great deal of good. Even better, show them how it’s done!

I don’t want my fiction to come across as preachy, but I’m going to promise myself to include major characters that are the kind of people I would want to know. Yes… I do want them to set a good example.

Fiction (in book, music, stage, movie and TV formats) featuring anti-heroes has become popular of late. And, I’ll admit, I love it. Doesn’t mean I dig it when Jax Teller is getting into a brothel madam while his wife is in prison (because of things she did to protect him and his MC club)… That actually makes me angry… No. He is not a character to idolise.

I get it. Sometimes people have to do (perceived) bad things to achieve good… or, at least, to avoid something personally devastating. And we all love the personal story these days and can forgive a great deal. But respect for other people (and preferrably living things in general, because I am an idealistic tree-hugger) is something I won’t budge on. I love a man who will rob a diamond bank (because, heck, we know the prices of those stones are artificially inflated anyway) but never, EVER do anything to hurt his partner (wife, girlfriend, husband, boyfirend – I don’t care about that detail).

I get it. Not all real people are squeaky clean. But they can try… and many will succeed.

We live in a time of change. Back in the day (and still in some cultures), the church could say: “Live as so”, and people did, or they were humiliated, or tortured, or something…  Simpler? Sure. Bummer for the person wrongly accused. But at least people knew what they were supposed to do.

Many are turning away from religion these days, and I’m not going to say that’s a bad thing. I am a woman of science. But the problem is, science doesn’t have a book with step-by-step instructions on how to live. Science is simply a set of observations, and from them we make predictions: “Y happened last time we did F with R, it’ll probably happen again… Oh, crap. Y didn’t happen. Why not? Oh, it’s because G changed… Let’s try that again…”

And so we must turn to our inner morality. And where do we get this? From our parents? To start with. From our experiences? Probably somewhat. From our education? I dunno, what school did you go to? From our stories? I believe so.

When you are inundated with certain images (either imaginary through the written or sung word, or literally through TV and movies) they become a part of your inner world, a part of your moral compass.

Do we writers (any artists, really) have a responsibility to share our moral comapsses?

I think we do. And I plan to share mine.

Am I going to get it right every time? Probably not. But I’ll try, and the world does love a tryer.

4 thoughts on “The Way Things Are, Could Be, and the Role of Fiction”

  1. You’ve tackled some deep thoughts here. It just so happens I’ve often thought the same way about my fiction. Rape, in any form, isn’t a subject to be taken lightly. I agonized over including a near rape in one of my books. I took it out at one point, reworked the scene, put it back in, took it back out, and finally approached it with a heavy heart. In the end I included the scene but reworked it some. How can I guy like me write what a victim of a sexual crime feels? While I don’t have first hand experience, someone close to me was raped. I’ve seen the aftermath. These are the things readers will never know. What they do know is what’s on the pages of my book. For better or worse, it’s there and will be judged.

    I’m with you when you say we have a responsibility to share our moral compass. If enough of us do, change will come.

    Great post, Deb. I hope your writing is going well.

    • Thanks Brian. Usually I myself on topics like this, but eventually you just can’t anymore. The writing is going OK this week. How’s yours?

      • I am so busy right now my head is spinning. I’ve got a handful of short stories out on submission, my book is still on submission too, plus I intern for a lit agent, and I still critique for my friends. It seems like everything is happening all at the same time. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful…but very busy. Been having fun too. 🙂

        Wishing you the best with WARRIOR’S TOUCH. I know you’ll rock it.

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