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 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.