Friday, January 17, 2014

Friday's Focus: Do Writers Help or Hinder In The Real World?

The first question going through your mind about now is, help or hinder what? Well, I'm coming to that, but be patient, it may take awhile.

This morning I read about two 4 year old first cousins. They were playing in a back bedroom of a home in which the only adult present was their grandfather. I assume he was babysitting. One of the 4year olds, a girl, peered under the bed and found a rifle, loaded, laying in an open box. She pulled it out from under the bed, pointed it at her 4 year old boy cousin, and pulled the trigger. In a nightmarish instant, one child was dead, one was guilty of killing him.

Why was there a loaded rifle under the bed in the room where the children were allowed to play? Why was the rifle loaded, no matter where it might have been? Why was the rifle accessable to these children, in any way, shape, or form? All very legitimate questions, undoubted asked by the police officers called to the home. And another question: I have used rifles before, and they are heavy weapons. How was this 4 year old child even able to lift it high enough to point it at her cousin?

But perhaps an even more legitimate question would be, why would a 4 year old girl know how to point a rifle at someone and then pull the trigger? She wasn't born knowing this. Who taught her? A parent? Grandparent? TV, movies, violent video games...all of which she should not have been allowed to watch or play, if indeed they might have been the culprits. Who taught this child, barely beyond being a toddler, how to kill someone, no matter how accidental it may have been?

No...this is not from a novel or movie or TV script. This is real life. So how do we as writers fit into all of this nightmare of reality? I can't answer that question, which is why I'm asking it. When we write about life's realities, not as non-fiction but as fiction, are we helping in real life, or are we hindering it? Some writers say, if we write about the problems in life that children/teens face on a daily basis, it will show them they are not alone, and it will provide them with ways to escape.

I'm thinking of one author in particular who writes beautiful books about girls' problems, like anorexia, cutting,  and cyber bullying. I am a great fan of hers and of her books. But is she helping teen girls to understand their problems, and showing them a way out? Or is she giving them false hope about a method of escaping that could never happen to them in their real-life circumstances?

If one of us wrote about this real life incident above, how would we deal with it? We couldn't change the outcome...although, yes, in fiction we could...but suppose we wrote a novel and used the entire incident as the plot. What would we offer in this novel that could, possibly, have changed the outcome? Would we make the parents, the grandfather, more responsible, more aware of what children get into when they shouldn't, more concerned about where the rifle should be? Would we write about how our 4 year old cousins or friends or siblings would never even know what a "trigger" was, much less how to press on it to make a gun fire?

If the elements of our novel were designed to make a good story, to hold the reader's interest, but also to teach a lesson in how NOT to store a gun, or how NOT to show your child what a trigger was for, would that be a help for someone in the future? If the novel was really any good, provided the reader with some excitement, would those "lessons" even be observed or considered by the reader?

I don't have the answers to any of those questions. If I write a contemporary story about children or teens and a real life problem, such as bullying or abuse or killing another child, and in this story I provide my MC with an escape mechanism or a way of solving the problem for themselves, am I really helping a future child/teen who might read my book? Or am I merely patting myself on the back by believing I am helping someone in the future, but in reality, I'm only offering false ( or fictional) hope for a situation that is, in fact, impossible for that same kid to overcome?

I don't know. Do you? We all write with the very best of intentions, but do we  offer realistic solutions that kids can actually try to escape or put an end to their problems, or are those solutions as fictional as the rest of our story? Do we help or do we hinder?

Until next time,
That's a wrap.


  1. Tough questions, Mikki. I don't think we're providing false hope. Having hope in any form is better than having no hope IMHO. Someone with hope will keep on searching for answers, whereas someone without probably won't. If we inspire even one person to have hope they can get out of the situation they're in, that's all to the good.

    1. Thanks, Marsha.I agree with the thought that hope of any kind is better than no hope at all. I just feel that we need to have our own MCs be as vunerable and lost as "real" kids are, and make their problem-solving attempts be on the same levels as these kids are. If we give hope that is ingrained in some kind of fictional solution that can't even be attempted in real life, then we have not done our job.

  2. Mikki, this is a profound post, and I don't pretend to have the answers to your questions, but I do believe in the power of bibliotherapy . The right book can help the reader see a way out of their situation.
    One therapist who writes for the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapist magazine has an article in every issue featuring a specific film, and a case study of a client she had view the film and how they incorporated the messages/themes in their treatment plan.

    So yes, I believe there is power in our hands to help. But sometimes we fall to the lure of "what sells", and the fantastical conclusions of our stories may indeed hinder, for example: a girl with a lousy life who's whole existence turns around by the new guy in town.
    Our goal should be to empower the reader with self confidence and belief in the human/their ability to rise above challenges.

    This post has reawakened my conscience,

  3. Wow Mikki, your post brings up all kinds of thoughts. I think realistic writing deserves a realistic ending instead of a pie-in-the-sky dream that in the end everything is neat and promising. Reality is not always like that. However, if we can show how our MC grows, learns, or works out a solution for whatever works for him or her then we are helping.

    As for a child knowing about guns-my answer is cartoons and fairy tales. Doesn't Elmer Fudd hunt with a gun that never hurts Bugs? And don't forget about all the squirt gun fights in summer.

    As a writer, I hope to build a sense of self awareness in kids so they can see that while nothing is perfect, their destiny is not set in stone.