This topic came up recently in my crit group, and it made me think. In this case, the person who asked the question had seen a lot of comments online about the Game of Thrones TV series, and how, since George R.R. Martin wrote about certain things, this made him a pedophile and a rapist. Apparently, some people think that since he writes about such things, that means he’s endorsing them. Let me say first of all that I haven’t read any of these comments myself. I’m sure they’re out there; that seems like something people would take offense at. I just haven’t seen them personally. But this idea, that writing about something means that I’m endorsing it…that bothers me on a lot of levels.
As a writer, I do think I have a responsibility to my readers. I have a responsibility to be true to my story, my characters, and the world I’ve set up. I’m responsible for writing the best, most entertaining story I possibly can. For getting my readers’ emotions involved, for making them laugh or cry or roll their eyes or growl in anger. For creating characters that they can care about. But most of all, for telling the truest story possible. Notice I didn’t say “for telling the happiest, most fluffy-bunny, sunshine, and unicorns story possible.” No. The truest story.
That does not mean all my stories have to have happy endings, although personally, I prefer them. (Just because I prefer them, doesn’t mean my characters will deliver.) This also does not mean that things that are ugly or painful or horrible will never happen to my characters. I’ve written about murder, and rape, and torture. These things happen in real life each and every day, how can they not happen in my fictional worlds as well? I don’t live in Utopia. Or Shangri La. Bad stuff happens. It happens to good people. It happens whether or not people deserve it. It happens. Just because I write about it, that doesn’t mean I endorse it.
If writing about something means the author endorses is, does that mean that someone writing about the movie theatre shooting in Aurora, CO last week is endorsing violent shooting sprees? I think not. Does that mean that since James Cameron destroyed Hometree in Avatar, he is endorsing the destruction of the rainforest? No. (Actually, I think he’s trying to do the exact opposite.) So what makes some people think that just because a writer writes about something, that must mean the writer is endorsing it?
I’ve never actually met George R.R. Martin, but I think it’s highly unlikely that he’s a huge supporter of rape, pedophilia, or public beheadings. I mean, seriously, people? He writes fiction. Which, by definition, deals with events that are not factual. Not to say that they don’t happen, but the author does not claim to be writing about actual events (unless the writer happens to be James Frey. In which case the definition of fiction is somewhat…skewed.).
So…just how responsible are writers to their readers?