I recently came across an article about the Ethics of Fiction and I thought it would be interesting to blog about this topic. The article began with a deep dive into the history and techniques of fiction. It then described how fiction affects society and what responsibilities authors have.
Its essential questions: Are fiction authors liars and do the authors intentionally deceive readers? For me, the answer depends on how an author presents their work. If an author honestly informs their readers about the fictional content, then the author is acting ethically. If an author attempts to pass along a fictional event as true, then they are acting unethically.
Of course, there are many gray areas. For example, a news report, that “takes a creative look into the problem.” Or “embellished facts.” My favorite are stories that are “based on true events.” Today we accept that “true” stories contain a percentage of fiction. The term for this new media is “dramatized.” I prefer to stay out of this gray area and I have never claimed my published work contained factual events.
However, I do get near reality. For example, in my first book, I developed the concept that the ruler of ancient Egypt, Cleopatra is immortal. To be clear, I am attempting to get readers to believe a not fictional woman lived for hundreds of years. This “fact” is clearly untrue.
How would I respond to the allegation of lying? First, at the beginning of my book, I declare my book to be a work of fiction. Second, I market the book as fiction. Third, the concept of immortality is an accepted functional construct.
Am I behaving unethically? In my mind, I made up a story and never intended to deceive anybody. If a reader ever suggested that my story is real, I would immediately defend my work as 100% fiction. So, we’re good? Right? Well…
People have Star Wars themed weddings and they name streets after fictional characters. Fans firmly believe in The Force and Harry Potter’s magic. Are we deceiving ourselves? In some cases, we take things a bit too far. Yet, as a society, having a fantasy foundation is good because it helps soften the harsh blows of reality.
Let’s tackle this issue head-on. Darth Vader never existed and will never exist. Right? Well… A few diehard fans truly believe and contend he exists “in a galaxy far, far away.” We can conclude he kind of exists. Now hold on. If a judge ordered Darth Vader to appear holding his lightsaber, nothing would happen. At best, an actor would show up in costume while holding a plastic prop. This individual only can come alive in a fictional environment.
Did George Lucas intend to deceive his audiences when he created Star Wars? He certainly put in a lot of effort into making realistic movies. Clearly, he only intended to create an amazing movie and not fool people. How would George Lucas respond to people who think the force is real? He would probably shake the hands of his diehard fans. How would George Lucas respond in a courtroom? He would strongly declare his creation to be fictional and laugh at the absurd notion that any part of his move is real.
What about an author that passes off their fictional creation as real? We now have an accepted term for this. Fake news. In my mind, this attempt at reality is an undisputed lie. What if we bend the truth? Fact: There have been allegations that the mayor embezzled school funds. Statement: “The mayor stole our tax dollars. -An anonymous source.” This statement is a thinly vailed lie. The anonymous source could be me and I have no idea about any mayors. What is the harm? I am raising awareness. Right? In my mind, this “author” is behaving unethically.
Can any good come out of fake news? Let us pretend somebody wrote a fake story that got people upset and the resulting interest brought a positive change. This is an ends justify the means argument. The bad situation could have been exposed in a well-written article with documented facts and a well thought out solution.
Are my ethics holding me back? Should I write up a bunch of fake news to bring attention to an important subject? I have to live with myself, and I would rather be a nobody author than an important person propped up by lies. The world has far too much fake news, urban legends, and distorted facts.
In life and literature, I do my best to behave honestly and try not to deceive. When I blog about a real topic, I do my best to present facts without embellishment. For those who choose a different path, I do not believe they qualify as authors.
You’re the best -Bill
March 25, 2020
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