Posted originally on March 24, 2010.
In times like these men should utter nothing for which they would not be willingly responsible through time and in eternity.
– Abraham Lincoln
I have at least a hundred and ten places in the world, big and small, I’d love to visit one day. They are anywhere from Egypt to Ireland to Turkey to Japan to Greece — the list goes on and on. And most of those places have sneaked into my list because of the books I’ve read over the years.
Isn’t it amazing how the image you have of the world is shaped, among other things, by the books (or any printed material) you read? That realization makes the act of writing that much more daunting – forget about how hard the craft itself is.
When it comes to writing books, non-fiction has more rules. Authors of non-fiction are expected to be cognizant of the subject at hand, and they are relied upon to include only proven facts in their books.
Not so fiction.
When writing fiction for adults there’s more leeway, because they are capable of discerning right from wrong. That’s the general belief, at least.
Writing for children? That’s an entirely different beast. Books are one of the cheapest and most commonly used tools to help shape young minds. And children are more impressionable, and hence susceptible to persuasion.
It is well and good to keep books real. I’m all for it. Up to a point.
My problem is when books get gimmicky, all for the sake of sales or some other self-serving need of the creators of the book, and make the depraved characters in it look really cool. Is this really necessary?
Let’s say someone writes a book that has a strong subliminal message that it is okay to make a cheap buck by cheating someone else. And for whatever reason, that book goes out of print after only some hundred copies are sold.
Where do those hundred-odd copies end up? On bookshelves, where they will continue to live for a number of decades. Even if each one of them gets read by one child in each generation, that’s a lot of children brainwashed over the years. And they grow up into adults who affect more children by their beliefs, opinions, and actions. And hence the sphere of influence of that one book keeps growing.
Every book has a message in it, whether it’s an obvious one or not.
As a writer, the bottom line for me is: Would my conscience remain clear even if only one reader embraces the message in my book?
How do you keep your writing responsible?