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July 25, 2012

I watch a lot of reader and author conversations/debates. I don’t tend to get involved in them because I don’t like arguing with people on the internet. In fact, that’s pretty much my go-to rule the minute someone on the other side of the issue becomes adamant they’re right: I disengage and refuse to respond. I spend a lot of the late 90s arguing with people on the internet, and all it did was ruin my mood daily. But, I store the topics away, internally process them, and then spew them out here.

One thought that comes up for me again and again as I read these debates on on-screen sex with teen characters, incest, rape, dubious consent, violence, safe sex, etc. is: it’s fiction. I see heated, furious debates about various topics in fiction, and whether or not authors have a responsibility for what they right, and don’t authors know that writing about incest or rape or violence or teen sex will hurt society and blah blah blah.

It’s fiction.

It isn’t real.

This was one of the first lessons I was taught in grade school when we toured the library in kindergarten. Fiction isn’t real. Fiction is made up stories people tell for entertainment. Fiction doesn’t owe anyone anything but a good couple of hours spent reading it. Authors hold no responsibility beyond that which they take upon themselves. It’s what I was taught when I was five-years-old, staring with wide eyes at all the possible worlds in front of me, and it’s what I say thirty years later. It isn’t real.

This need to foist political and societal responsibility onto all fiction really annoys me. Authors are raked across coals for mishandling even one small aspect of their story that a group of readers latch onto. I admit, I’ve been on the receiving end of that. I’ve had some nasty things said of me for ‘twisting’ Christianity around to suit my purpose in The Keeper, or how unprofessional it was for Kasper to begin a sexual relationship with his patient in Catalyst.

Why in The Keeper? Because Judas said Christ loved Hadi regardless of Hadi’s sexual orientation. As if God and Christ loving a Christian because he’s a good man who loves someone of the same sex is the most horrific message to have in a book. As for Kasper in Catalyst, I assure you, doctors wind up having sexual relationships with patients. It’s not rampant, but it does happen. There is a kernel of reality in both books among the dramatic plot that keeps readers reading.

People don’t read books for reality. I don’t read or write books for reality unless it’s an exploration of something personal for me. Reality is boring most of the time, which is why a lot of readers shun contemporary books unless something extreme is shown in those contemporaries. Real isn’t what sells books (despite how it seems to sell television shows). The unreality, the extreme, the things we can’t face or explore safely in reality, is what books—fiction—is about. While I would love to leave my readers chewing on what story I’ve just told, I don’t want them to think what I’m showing them is real.

It’s not. It’s fiction. Fictional people in fictional settings in fictional problems. 🙂 I think it’s time to stop critically picking apart every single book we read and return to the simple fact that fiction is for entertainment purposes only and shouldn’t be seen as any manual, manifesto, or condoning of illegal acts. It’s fantasy, and fantasy is okay to have, even when it’s dark and generally socially unacceptable. It’s fiction.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. July 25, 2012 11:01 am

    I agree up to a point. For me, fiction is unreality in as realistic a setting as possible. I want to fall into these worlds. I want them to hang together completely and not have holes easily poked through the walls.

    But I believe fiction should be as accurate as possible. If I read about a truck driver pulling out his bottle of Jack while he lounges in the driver’s seat off duty, my reaction is going to be “That’s not right. Someone didn’t do the homework.” (no alcohol in the truck, stay out of the driver seat unless driving) If I don’t know the difference between types of guns, or various kinds of fae or comfortable sexual positions, I look sloppy.

    And a lot of people don’t know where fiction ends and reality begins. My mother thinks there is an escape pod in Air Force One. After all, she saw it in Escape from New York AND Air Force One. My mother is not a stupid woman. If she believes this, I’m betting most people do.

    If you put an interesting sex act out in fiction, there will always be someone (*raises hand*) who dashes out to try it. This is why I try to write my sex scenes as accurately as possible, with all necessary precautions. There are…notable exceptions to this rule, but they are so clearly horror or fantasy that most people won’t try them.

    My point is, all readers know it’s a bad idea to scoop your lover’s eyes out with a grapefruit spoon. Not all readers understand it’s a bad idea to interrupt your airflow during sex. And some of us who know, don’t care because the results are amazing. So the best thing I can do is write it accurately and safely, so that no one ends up hanging themselves for an orgasm.

  2. July 25, 2012 11:16 am

    Angelia — Well, there’s a difference between being accurate and doing one’s research (when presenting situations based in reality that aren’t intentionally being altered) and having a level of social responsibility thrust upon you by a society who expects you to nursemaid them. Yes, by all means, do your research. If you’re going to have a character fire a double barrel shotgun, make damn sure he reloads after two shots and deals with the massive recoil on a gun that size. But it is not the author’s responsibility to exclude certain topics from their writing because someone may try it.Someone who is going to rape is going to rape whether I write it or not. I don’t believe someone reading a story could be turned into a rapist because of a fictional portrayal of rape.

    I feel no social responsibility for including ‘taboo’ topics in my fiction. Rape, incest, murder, etc. are all fair game, and writing about those things doesn’t mean I condone them, encourage them, or do them myself. XD Doesn’t stop the rape fantasy from being a turn on for me in most cases, but that doesn’t mean I want to be raped OR that I condone rapists. I think that’s what my post boiled down to.

  3. Kat Merikan permalink
    July 25, 2012 12:03 pm

    And same goes for sex scenes for me. They should be realistic – as in doable, but there is no need for them to be any kind of instruction for actual sex.
    Sometimes you want to show characters who are ‘doing it wrong’ and you don’t want to spoonfeed that to the readers. They should be allowed to make their own judgements and enjoy that as a part of reading.

  4. July 25, 2012 2:44 pm

    Agreed. Sure, some stories may be heart-wrenching and cruel, but in the end they never really happened, and it’s pointless to argue over them.

  5. July 29, 2012 4:57 am

    Kat — Exactly. Fiction should never be looked at as a manual for anything, and should someone choose to do that, then that’s their choice. The author has no social responsibility for someone else’s actions.

    Zen — Yep! There’s so many other, better topics to be debating/arguing over.

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