Writing Should Be Ethical

How do you write a story about a character who skews everything so that it looks good for himself? That is to say, how do you write a story about a character that bends the truth while remaining honest as a writer?

I’ll let you choose this one:
a. You don’t.
b. You just write whatever the character would want to show the reader
c. You can, but you have to balance what the character shows and what you the writer cue

If you’re good at following patterns, you chose c. Congratulations. You now have the intelligence of a monkey. Get on your typewriter and start pumping out some Shakespeare.

What? I’m not kidding.  Though you probably should finish all of this reading before you join your infinite number of compatriots, so I’ll continue.

My choices above are a clue. Two of them are unethical. Why?

Well, a. is unethical because obviously I don’t want you to try to create a story where you balance writer truth with character/narrator agenda. I am, after all, working on that myself and if I let you think it can’t be done, then that cuts down the competition.

Choice b. is unethical because that simply isn’t true. If you solely follow the narrating character’s agenda, then you run the risk of being dishonest to your readers as a writer.

Choice c. is not complete, but it is basically what you have to do. It is enough to summarize and at least get you either thinking or curious about what to do.

The fact is, you can write an honest story through the eyes of the most dishonest narrator. This narrator can be a compulsive liar. He can pretend to be a clinically compulsive liar so that people excuse him when he gets caught in his lies, which, by the way, he tells only when it benefits him, even if it is to the detriment of others (even loved ones).

How? You do it by giving the reader contextual clues as the writer to what is really going on (either what the lies are, or that the character/narrator is skewing the information). I won’t go into just how these contextual clues are accomplished because we’re then delving into the workings of fiction. That isn’t what I am doing here. I’m simply pointing out that it can be done, and that Technical Writing can help you understand the ethics of your craft.

Technical Writing Rules on Ethics:
Ethics are so important. Because much of Technical Writing revolves around instructing and presenting information, you have to write honestly. You can’t simply lie, but there is more to it than that. You can’t hide information. You can’t skew the way you present information to make it look better than it is. You can’t knowingly use statistics that aren’t accurate or biased, and you have an ethical duty to check your facts thoroughly.

A Technical Writing course (and for that matter a Critical Thinking course or communications/business ethics course) can help you understand and recognize ethical compromises in communication. When you know them and can find them, then as a writer you can manage when your characters are using them, and when you the writer has slipped into using them.

This balance of honesty and deceit is vital for the mystery writer. As a mystery writer, you want to keep some secrets from your reader. You don’t want them to know who-dun-it, especially if you show them the act. Point of View is key here, where scenes involving the mystery person the reader shouldn’t guess at yet, are described from other points of view. Be creative. While objects are not sentient creatures, it does not mean that they do not have a point of view. If there is no one else to observe a robbery or a murder, there is always the object of desire or murder itself. There are also things around from which your reader can view the scene. That doesn’t mean you’re providing your reader with thoughts of objects. You are merely putting your reader in that object’s place to observe the scene and get from it whatever clues you might wish to impart.

Remember, a picture is worth a thousand words.


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