Friday, September 09, 2005

Holding Science Accountable - or Morality and Writing

A favourite recurring theme in sci-fi is holding science accountable for its own progress and inventions.

One of my first short stories ever written didn't deal exactly with that, but the element existed in the story. The story was a runner-up in some contest and to my surprise, many of the judges' comments related to this aspect of the story. They were impressed with the moral ramifications of cloning and genetic engineering I was able to bring forth.

This got me thinking of course (well, what doesn't get me thinking?). Do writers have a moral responsibility? And if they do, to what extent?

We all have different morals. For example, a story about a pregnant teen can take different directions depending on the writer. We put ourselves and our morals in the stories we write. We can't help it.
A beautiful post from Patry Francis (does she have any other kind?) over at The Marvelous Garden about the unlikable protagonists stuck in my memory. Don't we also sometimes use morally questionable characters to accentuate our true beliefs? We make these hateful characters... just that - hateful, so as to contrast with virtues they should have.

I don't have any answers (do you?), but I think it is almost inescapable for a writer to put himself inside the story and thus make the story morally compatible with his own nature.

Tree Of Life
Uploaded on
April 14, 2005 by THX 1981
The idea for this post came to me because of the death of one of science great - Joseph Rotblat. I admit I don't know much about his scientific contribution, but he made an impact on science nonetheless. "Joseph Rotblat was the only scientist to resign from the Manhattan Project and later received the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to rid the world of atomic weapons."
Nobel Peace Prize Winner Joseph Rotblat Dies

There is always the flip side of course. Here is the latest weapon invention burning bullets.

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Anonymous said...

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Jennifer said...

I think every character I write/create has some 'belief' in them that can be found somewhere within my own head...even the bad guys.

They represent a wish, a want, a fear...something within me. Granted it's taken and made/developed into it's own character, but most characters I can point out one aspect of myself in. Sometimes it's nothing more than a character saying she hates dancing because she's afraid if she tries it she'll be bad at it. Othertimes it could be something big...but how can we NOT let some of ourselves seep into the characters we write.

"Don't we also sometimes use morally questionable characters to accentuate our true beliefs" My answer: Yes. I think we do.

Melly said...

Anonymous, I wonder if you're for real or if you're spam, which I highly suspect you are and which is so weird since I have the word verification thingy turned on.

What's worse is that if you're spam, I'm talking to spam, and if you're not, I probably insulted you, and I don't mean to.

Melly said...

I believe I do the same thing, Jennifer. There's always something of me in my characters, even in the vile ones (I can be that too on occasion :)

I just wonder if sometimes, when we write around a moral issue and don't tackle it, whether we have a responsibility to tackle it?

I don't know. Obviously I don't think we should be preachy, but I also know that I sometimes purposfully shy away from tackling moral issues in my writing. Is that wrong? Where is the balance?

Jennifer said...

You know, writing for children I try and pay careful attention to moral issues. I don't want to preach, but I want my characters (kids) to make good decisions. Sometimes what I find more helpful is letting them do the wrong thing and learn from it...but again I have to be careful because that to can end up like the parent say: "See I told you so. You should have listened to me."

I guess writing around a moral issue can depend too on the type story you're writing. It's definitely a good issue. Great debate topic!

Melly said...

Thanks Jennifer.
You make an excellent point about writing for children. I never thought of the fact that writing for children might have slightly different consideration. And, exactly, letting your characters make the wrong choices and learn from it sounds like a good way of doing it.

Maybe sometimes it's obivous too, some issues which morality (or lack there of) isn't questioned. No need to discuss perhaps the morality of a murder or murderer. But if a character says, 'I hate people with blue eyes,' maybe this needs to be investigated further...

Carter said...

I don't think there is any other reason for writing. It's a way for us to explore and explain our morality both for our readers and for ourselves. I personally think that a story without a moral foundation of some sort is not worth my time. Whether I agree with the author or not, there has to be some substance there. Just my opinion. I know a lot of people disagree with me on this.

Melly said...

Carter, just what I've been waiting for, some enlightenment here.

You know what? I think that I for one agree with you. The morality doesn't have to be 'in your face' but if it doesn't exist at all, then it would leave the reader (and writer perhaps) empty.

I wonder if I could be swayed the other way...

Lee Carlon said...

This is interesting. I do think characters need to face some sort of moral dilenma, after all without conflict what are you writing about?

However, I'm not so sure that authors have a moral responsibility. As an author I think it is unreasonable for people to do questionable things and then say, well I read it a book or saw it on tv, so it's not my fault.

Melly said...

Oh, sorry Lee. I hope that wasn't what was implied or came out of the post. I never meant that writers have a responsibility to others peoples actions (like not writing about a murdered because of fear someone would 'copy' it).

I guess it was a personal issue I was arguing about with myself. I wrote something and the it touched a very controversial moral subject. I decided not to explore that part of the story and leave it alone. I shied away from it and wrote around it. Did I do the right thing? I don't know.

As an aside: I know for a fact of writer who was asked to change the plot a bit so that his main character wouldn't have to go through an abortion. He refused and lost the contract...

And you're absoulely right, moral dilemma and conflict are the basis of a good plot and good character building.

Lee Carlon said...

I recently met an agent (I was one of about two dozen people at the meeting - so it's not that impressive) who told a story about a book that she just couldn't get published because there was an abortion in it.

I think it's ridiculous that we're so afraid of offending people that fiction is made to suffer.

I didn't think you meant that, merely offered it up for discussion. :)

Melly said...

Oh, I agree. It's absolutely ridiculous. A question to Miss Snark perhaps?

Well, the writer I was talking about is a best seller who didn't have a problem publishing his book elsewhere, and that book was a bestseller as well, abortion and all.

But it's hard to comprehend that publishers would do that. You'd think we live in the stoneage or that censorship really exists.

And by the way, since you brought up the subject, weren't there copy cats of fictional murders? I think so, but not sure.

Lee Carlon said...

There have certainly been movies about copy cat killers, so it must be true!
I read an article recently about a 14 yeard old boy in Australia who was arrested and charged with a string of crimes, stealing cars, break and enters, and when he was asked how he knew how to do all these things he said he learnt them from CSI, and that he didn't really like the show, but watched it for educational purposes.

Melly said...

Educational indeed... That's funny. And sad, but funny nonetheless.
See? It's not like the kid didn't take anything out out of the show, and that's something...

Patry Francis said...

Just found this, Melly. Thanks so much for the kind words!

And what a wonderful discussion you've started...

Melly said...

Only true words, Patry.
And thanks back :)