December 8th, 1980…
A true musical icon was gunned down by his ′number one fan′, according to his assassin. Mark David Chapman murdered John Lennon that night by shooting him in the back, and this was not long after he had just given him a personal autograph earlier in the day. And he didn′t run afterward. Instead…he sat on the curb, and read from J D Salinger′s novel, ′A Catcher In The Rye′. A book that he says inspired his heinous act. One of the saddest days in American history, in my opinion.
Now, of course…there isn′t ANYTHING in that book that would suggest killing anybody, least of all a musician who seemed to be dedicated to ending war and violence in all of its many forms. But, it begs the question…when you′re writing a story and putting it out there for the whole world to see…do you feel that you are officially stepping up to claim some responsibility for the messages that you put into the words you share with others? Do you find a moral obligation to be ′careful′ with what you write? Or do you find that limiting on your creative freedom…and therefore, the antithesis of truth and honesty in your art?
Not an easy thing to tackle, but let′s give it a shot, shall we? This week…let′s talk writer responsibility!
I will be the first to admit that I really don′t censor myself when I′m writing a story. I don′t hold back. My emotions pour forth, and I follow my personal muse as far as it will take me if I think it will paint the kind of picture that I wanted to paint. However, when my creative energy has been spent and the dream factory closes up for the night…the ′editing′ part of my brain takes over, and I feel that other choices have to be made in order to feel good about putting the stuff that I′ve written out there for an unknown public to read. Please, don′t ever think that I write anything without a sense of conscience. I do. As much as I champion freedom of expression and challenging other mindsets to accept and embrace concepts that they might not be willing to let invade their comfort zone…I am always careful with what I say and how I say it. Many of my stories deal with some very heavy issues. Abuse, suicide, heartbreak, coming out, bullying, terminal illness…and people are actually absorbing what I write. Every word. And no author knows whether their story is going to be taken as an emotional roller coaster ride that leads to an impact on someone′s life…or if it′s going to be the next ′A Catcher In The Rye′, inspiring them to do something foolish. Maybe even criminal.
It′s something that I always keep in mind when I′m putting a story together. It would KILL me to know that something that I wrote caused somebody to hurt themselves or somebody else. To make a bad decision, to risk unprotected sex with a stranger, to take advantage of a minor, break the law, or to contemplate suicide…simply because they read it in a ′Comicality′ story. I couldn′t live with that. That was never my intention and it never will be. And yet…how much responsibility can an author take upon him or herself when it comes to how their stories are interpreted by others? Where should the line be drawn?
I don′t want my teenage readers being afraid of sex. I don′t want them to shy away from it or to be embarrassed by their desires or ashamed of their pursuits. But…at the same time, I don′t want to have my stories building fantasies around dreamy boys and easy relationships where you never fight, never need a condom, and everybody lives happily ever after, no matter what, either. There has to be a middle ground somewhere. A compromise that allows them to think for themselves according to a particular situation. And that′s where I try to keep my writing centered. In the middle. Yes, there are good times, and yes, there are bad times…but there are no pleasurable deeds committed without possible consequence, and there are no downfalls into misery without a sense of hope and redemption. There′s a balance to be maintained. I always strive to show both sides of the coin so everyone reading can make positive choices based on who they are as a person, and not just based on what I wrote in a story that was meant to be used for entertainment purposes only. Thoughtful, inspiring, motivational? Definitely. But entertainment, just the same. I have to take some personal responsibility for the content of my stories. Especially now that the ′Comicality′ brand has a bit of notoriety online. I have to be more careful than ever. I never know who is reading. I have no control over how they take my message or what they do with it. So, I take all of these things into account when I look over my stories and get ready to hit ′send′ to share it with the rest of you guys. I′ve been through violent abuse, I′ve suffered heartbreaks that felt like I′d never ever be able to smile again, and I′ve been at death′s door myself, not to mention, losing a very close friend of mine to suicide when he was only 17 years old. It hurts.
But that puts me right in the middle of a conflict that I need to wrestle with if I′m going to truly be passionate about the content of my stories in general. Can I be responsible in my presentation of ideas, and yet still be honest enough to capture the hearts and minds of people out there who need to know that someone understands their struggle, and has the courage to speak the words out loud so they can stop feeling so alone? It′s a thin line. But one that I think every writer reading this can walk if they really feel the urge to do so.
I think the goal is to keep your readers in mind, younger and older alike, when going over some of your most emotional scenes. I try to imagine how someone else my read the scene. I want to be raw and brutally honest about the severe pain associated with a broken heart. I want it to be visceral and disturbing and emotionally moving in a way that will remind and possibly bring up past feelings for readers who have gone through something similar. They can feel that torment as if it was brand new. The more true you are to your feelings and memories in your writing, the more connected your readers will be to your project. We′ve all been there before, right? But what about the college boy who′s currently going through a serious heartbreak or rejection at the exact same moment that he′s reading my story? What happens if I′m digging around in his backyard and end up doing more harm than good by triggering emotions they′re not dealing with in a healthy manner? I wouldn′t want that. There are times when I think about certain words or phrases that I use in my stories, and I go over them to ′soften the blow′ by using words with a little more finesse instead. If one of my characters gets their heartbroken, I might avoid talking about how much ″I want to die…″ or ″I could KILL him for stealing my boyfriend from me!″ It may be something that I write while I′m in the moment…but sometimes my conscience pops up and says…let′s not phrase it that way, Comsie. People are reading. Have any of you other writers ever experienced that in your stories? Please feel free to leave your thoughts down below. I′m curious.
The other side of that coin, of course, is that the gritty details of certain serious issues are needed for the story to have the kind of hard hitting impact that I want it to have. If I write a scene in a story where a boy is getting violently bullied, dragged into a high school bathroom, and beaten up with no one to come to his rescue…I want it to be unsettling. It′s meant to be a disturbing scene. I don′t want to hold back and deny the readers who have experienced hardcore bullying in their lives an honest portrayal of what it′s like to have to live through something like that. When I talk about suicidal feelings, or childhood abuse, it comes from a very personal place. And readers who recognize those feelings immediately feel a kinship for the descriptions going in to the scene. And for many, it can be a very theraputec exercise to relive some of those moments and finally lay them to rest. I have gotten so many emails over the years from people who just want to say ′thank you′ for telling the truth and helping them to come to terms with what they′ve been through so they could move on. I don′t want to fake it or sugarcoat some of the harsh realities of what′s going on. Otherwise, what′s the point of the story itself? Am I going to have the stones to say what needs to be said or not? If not, then I can leave the heavy content out of the story completely and write giggly fairy tales all day. Why not?
Hehehe, sorry. I′m rambling a bit this weekend. But it′s something that′s awkward for me to think about sometimes. So, any thoughts on this? Please leave your comments below if this has sparked anything for ya! 😛
Bottom line, I feel a duty to be honest in my writing, but that doesn′t mean that responsibility gets tossed out the window. I don′t think any author should take a ′devil may cry′ attitude with their stories. Words have a power that we, as writers, definitely understand. Words can be used to empower us, enrage us, break down barriers and blockages, and inspire us to do great things. But those tables can turn quickly if we don′t at least put some thought into how the message is received…instead of just how it is delivered.
Anyway, food for thought! Thanks for trying to decipher my weirdness! Hehehe! And as always, I hope this helps!