A Few Thoughts About Ethics in Writing

WriteEthics3

Interestingly, while ethics are huge in technical and academic writing, it is not given the same attention in the world of fiction writing. As an author who belongs to both groups, I have been watching the difference and wondering why? Could it be because scientists have to be more accurate about every word they write? Or maybe, the fiction writers are in any way more (or less) ethical than technical writers, so they don’t need to set up any rules of fiction writing ethics? 😉 I want to believe that both groups equally care about their readers and this difference is nothing more than a tradition, so nobody ever asks the question.

Ethics codes are present at the workplace: even if they aren’t always enforced, they still exist and we obey them… often mechanically, without thinking. Summing up a dozen of articles which I studied in search for an answer to my question, there are a few basic points to adhere to whenever you are writing a professional document:

  • don’t mislead;
  • don’t manipulate;
  • don’t stereotype; and
  • always check the facts.

Well, I did a thing which I may regret doing: I tried to apply these rules to fiction writing this morning… and found the reason of my writer’s block! I realized that everything fiction writers do is exactly the opposite of the four rules!

Unlike academic writing, which is all about sharing facts to feed the work of mind, fiction writing works with reader’s imagination and emotions; it’s principal idea is to mislead, manipulate, hide (or distort) facts of real life with the only purpose of creating stereotype universes in the readers’ minds and enticing them into reading! 

Does this mean that fiction writers are unethical, immoral, dishonest, improper, corrupt, unrighteous, unjust and… (could not think of more antonyms to the word “ethical”, sorry)?  Uh-huh, I kind of regret I took up the topic already!

To calm myself down, I decided to accept the following explanation: fiction writers have to break those rules of ethics. Like mathematicians, who sometimes look for a proof by contradiction, fiction writers need to show their readers a ‘different’ world, where rules are broken and norms are corrupted; we only have one rule to follow: we must expose the fake in the end. If writers did not do this, the world would never get to know “Alice in Wonderland”, “Winnie-the-Pooh” or Harry Potter books! These books mislead, manipulate, create unusual stereoptypes, and distort our reality, but they do this so awesomely well that no one can resist reading them again and again!

So, what is the answer? Is it ethical for fiction writers to ignore the ethics of academic writing? 😉 The question is still up!

Please, share your thoughts, I am very curious to know your opinions on this.

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5 Comments

  1. Hi Rina, On the basis of ‘practise what you preach’ and my long experience in academia, it is by far the most UNethical environment of the lot. If I were writing fiction (or anything at all, for that matter), I wouldn’t have any concerns about ‘academic standards’.

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    • 🙂 I know what you mean! The most unethical people are those who love telling everybody about moral values! Still, I just wanted to bring up the topic. I will probably add a couple more thoughts to my post; I have been thinking about the paradox of ethics in writing and some new ideas are coming to mind. Thank you very much for you comment. I am looking forward to more! 🙂

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      • Hi Rina, Some time ago, in response to a media beat-up and academic posturing after a student cheating ‘scandal’, I did a post on academics that you might be interested to read (https://philipstanfield.com/2015/03/21/mymaster-essay-cheating-scandal-more-than-70-university-students-face-suspension/). In Australia, academics with their beautiful degrees, beautiful tassled or puffy headwear and beautifully coloured gowns (everything about them is beautiful) lay claim to being the upholders of the highest ethical standards in a secular culture. Their behaviour all the more warrants exposure and condemnation when they, at every opportunity or when required in their service to their capitalist masters reveal the lie of that ‘commitment’. What I have read so often of how ideology was maintained in the Soviet Union and is maintained in China is fundamentally no different from ‘laid-back’ Australia. These people, in their actions, are ruthless with absolute efficiency and dishonesty. They have no shame. Their motto is the line from ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ – ‘We’re all innocent in here.’ Best regards, Phil

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  2. I think the answer lies somehwere in the hybridization of the two. By that I refer to a writing book (or at least the title) that I once saw. I never read the book, but the title is one of my all-time favorites — provocative, inspiring, revealing, and ironic.

    “The Lie that Tells a Truth”

    I think the ethics in a fiction writer’s work lies in the fact that they are trying to elicit a more visceral and vicarious experience to help the reader better assimilate a subliminal lesson into their everyday lives rather than just provide a litany of knowledge to pack into their memories.

    Even the non-fiction works that I find the most educational and beneficial are those that incorporate some of the elements of fiction into them. Things like emotion, details, the five senses, character, setting, et cetera. They make it so much more impacting, enjoyable, and easy to understand.

    Any thoughts?

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    • I agree with you, James, especially in the part where you compare good literature and good non-fiction works. Sooner or later, every good scientist comes to fictional thinking/writing mode. I believe that the difference between writing fiction and writing non-fiction lies in the fact that these two categories of authors have different target ‘areas’: while non-fiction authors aim to reach their readers’ logic and mind, the fiction authors aim to influence the readers’ imagination and emotional personality. This determines the differences. Things like building stereotypes, manipulating, misleading etc. (which non-fiction styles consider as evil) become working tools in the hands of fiction writers. Sometimes, and I believe this is necessary and even inevitable, the two trends interfere under the pen of one author, and then a good – really good book is born, because it manages to influence both, the readers’ minds and imagination.
      Anyway, I am going to think more about this topic; probably, I will come up with another article soon. Thank you very much for your comment! I will continue thinking on it.

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Jerry Jay Carroll

New York Times bestselling author

Words on Empty Ears

Understanding someone’s way with words isn’t as simple as you think.

The Laude Lady

My Summa Cum Lousy Life

LostSymbols

Are we broken or just exhausted?

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