Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Writers and Morals

No, I'm not talking about ethics.

I'm talking about our personal moral views and how they inform our writing. We all have them. It's often possible to tell from an author's work what religion they follow. Or where they stand on hot button issues such as abortion and gay rights.

We all have them. If you try to keep them out of your work, then you're keeping yourself out, and your work will be bland and without soul. I know, for example, that some of my views on disability and usefulness flow into Transpecial. I can't help it and I don't want to help it.

Where a writer has to be really careful is keeping those views from becoming the work, or from being so obvious they take the reader out of the story. This is "preachiness" and it only hurts your book. Marion Zimmer Bradley's otherwise excellent work is marred by promotion of earth-centered religion in the Mists of Avalon and some extreme feminist viewpoints expressed rather too vividly in the Darkover novels.

Lois McMaster Bujold, also an excellent writer, gets into being pro-life a little too much in her early work and while she seems to have got over it, relapses into politics (albeit on a slightly different matter) in Cryoburn.

I have to admit I have a scene I need to think some more on in an unpublished work. I think I got it de-preachified, but I'm not sure I quite succeeded. It's particularly tough, I suspect, when writing for children - the temptation to do the old Saturday Morning Cartoon thing where after the story the characters step back out in front of the curtain to go over the moral of the day has to be strong. By the way, that annoyed me when I was six.

The best way to be sure you aren't preaching is to ask somebody. By all means let your morals into your work. By all means, even, promote your causes, but you have to do so without breaking the fourth wall or wrecking your reader's suspension of disbelief.