My Ethics Hinder Good Story
Five years ago, I was working at Sundstrand on a project that resulted in a report. Issues were uncovered and the report conclusion pointed them out. My boss asked me to change the conclusions to cover up the flaws and I refused. To get around this dilemma, I re-wrote [faked] my conclusions and had somebody else submit it under their name. I suppose that made me a ghostwriter. So far, that is the only time that I have allowed this to happen.
On a side note, Sundstrand had extensive “ethical training” and they went out of their way to stress their “core ethical values.” Despite this fact, Sundstrand was a very unethical place to work. I still liked my boss. He was just passing along the poor ethics of upper management.
The entire incident made me feel conflicted. It was a minor lie, but my core personality hated lying. I considered quitting my job. Looking back upon what happened with a global perspective, the reality was a minor fudge of the implied requirements.
At the time of the incident, my coworkers all said, “It’s what the boss wants. Just do it.” I simply couldn’t bring myself to agree and I felt they were being unethical just for suggesting such a course of action.
Since that lie, I have reflected upon the ethical aspects of my life. I came to an unexpected conclusion. I am a deeply ethical person. I had thought that my ethics were normal or perhaps a little below normal. Sure, I don’t steal or abuse people, but all of my friends are like that. I speed, takes some risks and occasionally push the envelope. However, I am fully aware that I am not a saint and there are many people with higher ethics.
After working at Sundstrand, I began to write. The plots that I choose to write about were the same types that I like to read. The characters are of course ethical and the protagonists are of course unethical. However, the protagonists have ethical lines they don’t cross. I feel it’s important that readers connect with the protagonist as if they could be bad people in their own lives. It’s an enjoyable moment when a protagonist fails and a sad moment when they succeed. However, I feel that if the protagonist is too bad then the reader will not continue reading.
For example, my protagonists would never use racial slurs. Such terms are important tools for authors to rouse up the reader. The terms show ignorance and a lack of respect. I just cannot use a racial slur in my writings or any other aspect of my life.
I also noticed that my lead characters are normal people with good morals. They rarely do the wrong thing and they regret their mistakes. That choice vastly limits their “dynamic range” in what they can do and where the story can go. This makes it impossible for me to create an antihero.
I mentally set a limit as to the plotline and subject matter. I cannot write a horror story where people are treated badly for the sake of being treated badly. My protagonists need a reason to be awful; they cannot simply be awful people. To that end, I make sure they don’t benefit from their poor behavior.
Well, can I tell myself “this is just fantasy?” Go ahead, write a good raw gritty unsavory story. Readers will understand; they know the definition of fiction. The author of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” has never killed anybody. It was just a story. To me, that is a bridge too far. However, I do appreciate great books that reach far into the depths of anger, hate, abuse, and immorality. I like anti-hero movies like Deadpool and Mad Max.
Does this mean that my books will always be limited? Regrettably, yes. A large portion of literature and character type will be off limits to me. Is this bad? Great writers challenge themselves to come up with fantastic plots. Great authors use shock value, they push the envelope and love to get readers out of their comfort zone. I am aware of what my writing could be, but I have to live with myself. I don’t feel that the sum of my life’s achievements should be an unethical character. I would much rather be a complete failure as an author than to be known as the author who created Hannibal Lecter.
I do understand that Hannibal Lecter is a really amazing character. Thomas Harris can be proud of that sadistic creation. However, I could never approach that level of cruelty. My ethical foundation simply will not allow it.
I now feel that I have a better understanding of my ethics and I know how they affect my writing. I am going to try to push my personal envelope as much as my ethics will allow. I think there is still a lot of good ethical area to have a great plot. I hope that readers will appreciate my characters and plots even if they don’t push the boundaries of evil.
You’re the best -Bill
January 16, 2019
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