Writers’ responsibility

I’ve been reading a collection of essays by Diana Wynne Jones called Reflections. It’s a bunch of things she wrote for various magazines or talks, all collected together. Some of them float around various corners of the internet.

Anyway, one of the things that has stuck with me is the way stories affect children and adults. She has lots of examples of times people came up to her and told her how deeply some of her words affected them–or how much they were affected by the Piper at the Gates of Dawn chapter of the Wind in the Willows. (Incidentally, that’s the only chapter I remember of that book.)

I’ve especially pondered her example of a blueprint.

Fantasy certainly does provide comfort–and who is not entitled to a little comfort if they can get it? For those who need that, it is the mind’s perfect safety valve. But a child reading, say, a fairy story is doing a great deal more. Most fairy stories are practically perfect examples of narratives that fit the pattern of the mind at work. They state a problem as a “what if” from the outside. “What if there were this wicked uncle? That evil stepmother, who is a witch? This loathsome monster?” Stated in this way, the problem (parent? bully?) is posed for the widest number of people, but posed in a way that enables the reader to walk all round it and see the rights and wrongs of it. This uncle, witch or monster is a vile being behaving vilely. As these beings will invariably match with an actual person: parent, sibling, schoolfellow, what a child gains thereby is a sort of blueprint of society. Reading the story, he or she is constructing a mental map–in bold colors or stark black-and-white–of right and wrong and life as it should be. Turning to the actual parent or schoolfellow, where right and wrong are apt to be very blurred, this child will now have a mental map for guidance.

An important part of this mental map is that the story should usually have a happy ending–or at least an ending where justice is seen to be done to villains and heroes alike. This is again part of life as it should be. The mind, as I have said, is programmed to tackle problems, joyfully, with a view to solving them. An ending that suggests–because the writer believes it to be “realistic”–that all you can attain is some lugubrious half measure, means that all children will set out to achieve will be that half measure. And, since you rarely achieve all you aim for, what these children will actually get is an even drearier quarter measure, or less. So it is important that the blueprint instructs them to aim as high as possible. Diana Wynne Jones – Writing for children: a matter of responsibility

As I’ve chewed on this, it’s made me take a step back and evaluate the books being churned out for teens these days. The Young Adult genre is, quite frankly, a cesspool. Somehow we jumped from Middle Grade, with its adventures and heroic characters, to the angst-ridden sex-obsessed teen lit. It’s awash in angst and every perversion known to man. Sometimes a decent book with a decent story floats to the top, but the genre’s hallmarks are still there.

What kind of blueprint are these books providing for kids? Especially teens, who are dealing with hormones and trying to figure out their place in life? The Free Love agenda is still alive and well, even though we’re living in its awful aftermath–serial polygamy, single mothers, a swelling welfare class, the degradation of women. But somehow, YA misses that. Many authors preach the agenda hard, providing a foul blueprint for teens to follow.

I’m glad Twilight took off the way it did. Whatever else people say about Twilight, it preached abstinence. Against the backdrop of other YA offerings, it’s a refreshing change.

It’s made me ponder my own works. What sorts of things am I promoting? Am I providing a positive blueprint? Because someone, somewhere will read my books, and it might very well stick in their imagination and affect their life choices. Heaven knows my fanfics have already affected many peoples’ lives. I hope it’s mostly in a good way.

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3 thoughts on “Writers’ responsibility

  1. I completely agree with what you’ve got there. There IS a responsibility behind writing, and we tend to forget that. I think the problem with the young adult genre right now is that it’s not just young adults who read them anymore… So authors are gearing their works toward broader audiences, and therefore, sex is okay. When I think of adult novels, I usually think of Crichton or King novels where the main characters are addressed by their last names, and language is fairly complicated. Not so much for young adult novels. The wider audience is blurring the line.

    Though I don’t necessarily agree with you about Twilight. It started off as a story about abstinence, but it also had a lot of mixed morals. Bella attempts to hurt herself multiple times in order to get Edward’s attention, and eventually it works. That’s telling girls that if you just tell your boyfriend that you’re going to kill yourself if he breaks up with you, he’ll stay with you. (Ashley pulled that on Joe a few times). She also plays around with both Edward’s and Jacob’s feelings throughout ALL the books which also sends mixed messages. And regardless of whether or not Edward and Bella were married when they had sex, Edward is STILL technically under age (She could have easily made it so he was 18 when he turned, but she chose 17 instead) and Bella’s pregnancy and birth were miniature horror stories. On top of that, Jacob imprints on her new born baby.

    There is just too much bad to outweigh the good of promoting abstinence. I don’t think it balances itself out. Harry Potter, on the other hand, doesn’t even MENTION sex. Everything is about LOVE, both friendship love AND romantic love. That’s the kind of examples that really sets the bar.

    But that’s just my opinion. XD

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  2. I would like to borrow that book when you are finished. You have no idea how hard it was to take that copy and order you another one. 🙂 I sat and stared at it greedily mind you.
    It sounds as fantastic as it looked when I was perusing it. Very well thought out, I always think that Mr. Baher told Jo the very same thing in Little Woman.
    You must always be very careful what you write. 🙂 Well said by the way.

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  3. I think writing should be approached in the same way that what comes out of our mouths should be. We should use our words to help and build up other people, to not lead them astray. The writing of books should be used the same way. Even a telling of our own story could be used to alter someone’s life coarse (Well if Meg did such and such bad thing and turned out alright, then I’ll be ok if I do it too), and books are even easier for people to follow, because the imagination runs wild. Maybe a good way to gauge if your writing is for “good and not evil”, is to ask yourself, if you were to live out your book and act like your characters, would you be proud or ashamed of yourself?

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