You Are What You Write (Or Not)

March 14th, 2005 · 2 Comments
by Booksquare

The idea of character versus reality has come up in many ways over the past few days. For example, today Ana Marie Cox, a keynote speaker at SXSW explained that Wonkette is a character (it was also revealed that she’s married…this was news only to Robert Scoble). If you’re a fiction writer, this makes perfect sense. After all, our nearest and dearest know that we don’t know everything; we cannot, for example, convert miles to kilometers.

Character, or rather how you present yourself in various situations, has threaded through the SXSW sessions (note: in our defense, we have not attended any of the seriously geek sessions, so cannot officially declare this an official theme. See first paragraph.). There is a sense of community and responsibility when it comes to blogging, and we appreciate that the blogosphere appreciates the nuances. It is easy to be consumed by ease.

Interestingly, the best example of this does not come from the blogosphere, but from the inaugural Salon column by Ayelet Waldman. In it, she not only discusses how her blog saved her life (a very modern cry for help), but also how writing reveals the person behind the character. And if the person is revealed, then specific aspects of that person’s life are laid bare. Just as the ethics of journalism are being debated in the blog world, so must the ethics of sharing the lives of others for the sake of our own writing be considered. Most fiction writers create composites or snatch specific traits of others; but when you’re writing your life, especially in real time, that luxury isn’t always feasible. Or practical.

No solutions. No guidelines. Just questions. Do we change the names to protect the innocent…or do we need to seriously consider ethics in fiction (or narrative non-fiction, as the case may be)?

File Under: Tools and Craft

2 responses so far ↓

  • Sandy L // Mar 15, 2005 at 7:40 am

    I had read an earlier Salon column by Ayelet Waldman where she confessed to something that I really wished she hadn’t told me. There are some things about authors that I really don’t need to know. And I am not convinced that author’s need to tell us everything.

  • booksquare // Mar 15, 2005 at 7:53 am

    For me, I prefer a certain sense of mystery (I am reminded that I do not like to meet actors or, especially, lead singers of rock bands [drummers are fine — rarely a surprise there] because I am left wanting and that something special is lost). That being said, the beauty of writing is that there is something to appeal across the spectrum. Some people like the authors who open veins and share. Some people like a little less reality.

    If it’s just one person involved, the vein approach is fine. When others are affected, then the ethics question arises. I don’t mention the husband by name here — and while I talk about him, it isn’t on a personal level and I (might) blur the facts to protect the innocent. He has become a character here like all the others.

    I’m hoping others have thoughts or ideas on this. It feels like we’re bumping up against a boundary.