Friday, December 14, 2007

Writing Under the Influence

A familiar tool found in any sea worthy pirate’s pocket is a trusty compass. It helps chart a destination, and keeps the ship on a desired course for the next keg of rum. A writer is not unlike a pirate. We have goals, and outlines we follow in order to meet a desired destination.

Internally I carry a compass of my own. It has been internalized in me since I was a small child. I have a moral compass, and more often than not, it guides me in daily decisions as well as what I choose to write.

I‘m not morally perfect, and I‘m not trying to blog a sermon, but I want to raise the question of morality in writing.

I have found that the more I write and work toward a goal of completing a WIP, the more concerned I become about what I write. I find that more often times than not, my writing self becomes at odds with my moral compass. I find freedom in writing, and to put restraints or limits on writing can remove all liberty of expression. Although I am writing to please me, what I write has the possibility of influencing a great number of readers. I want the freedom to write, but I want to convey the right message. I feel as a writer that I have a certain responsibility to represent who I am in the words and scenarios I choose to write.

Writers display certain morals in the characters they create. As writers, we have discussed creating characters that we dislike, or we allow our characters to do and say things that we normally would never convey in our own lives. The freedom to create our visions is the joy of writing. However, character creation is only a small portion of our influential writing potential. We can also influence readers through dialog, violence, and sexuality. We cannot censor what age groups have access to our work, and maybe that is not an issue to most writers, but we are responsible as individuals for what we write. Romance novels are not found next to self-help books, and religious philosophy at Barnes and Noble. We are not writing romance to save the world from moral corruption, but even a love story has the ability to influence potential readers.

Do you write with a moral compass, or does morality even play a factor in your writing style?


Maggie Robinson said...

I'm just hopelessly good in real life, but in my books I try to stretch a little. And it scares me that God sometimes seeps in when I least expect Him to, particularly since my religious convictions are not conventional. Every character I've created has flaws, but they're redeemed by the end, except when I've killed off the bad guys. *g*

Lissa said...

Maggie I like your comment that God seeps in when you least expect him. I find that as well in my writing. I admit sometimes I heed the pull of morality, and sometimes if I envision a scene or a character in a specific manner I stick with my creative mind instead of what might be viewed as morally correct.

As writters we have the creative ability to redeem all bad with an HEA:)

Janga said...

My faith defines my moral code, and it is such an integral part of who I am that I don't think I can separate it from anything I do.

I considered writing an inspirational when I began writing a romance, but the guidelines were so restrictive that I just could not do it. On the other hand, my characters are believers who sometimes struggle with their beliefs but always are sustained by it. If I let myself worry too much about how my mss will be received given that it is something of a hybrid, I will never finish.

terrio said...

Great blog, Lis. I think this might be what I was trying to get at Monday but Moral Compass didn't occur to me. I'm a cradle Catholic with twelve years Catholic education. I'm afraid my compass is embedded deep and not coming out.

But I'm not a black & white kind of person. Life has lots of gray areas for me. There are things I would never have a character do. Not my protagonists anyway. But much of that is based on personal experience. I know the hurt, humilitation, loss and often rage that results from someone making immoral choices. Unless I want readers to hate that character, they won't do it.

But I'm sure there are things that are immoral in the minds of others that don't bother me that much. It's a fine line and the best we can do is follow our hearts and satisfy our conscience. I'm hoping the rest takes care of itself.

Marnee Jo said...

I think that all of my characters have some moral code. Though, I'm not certain that I would ever be able to write an inspirational romance.

Honestly, I mention their religion at times and at times, I speak about God, but I don't know if it is a defining feature. I'll have to think about that a little more.

Lissa said...

Janga you hit the nail on the head with the way you described your characters and their beliefs. I as an individual am constantly renewed by my faith. My life wouldn't work without my moral constitution, and I want to convey that in my characters.

Lissa said...

Thank you Terrio:)

And you are correct some individuals view life as not entirely black and white. When the grey areas come into play then choices are made.

In order to make our writing interesting to the reading population, we have to create diversity. Sometimes immorality steps into play, but let me ask this. Do you think if a reader is immersed in the story they would lay down the book if the heroine makes an immoral choice? I think not. Most readers( and in this I'm speaking for myself) read to find out the consequences, and the redeeming qualities in charaters. It's hard for me to stop reading because of a character flaw. Most flaws make me identify with the character because it only makes them more human.

MsHellion said...

I'm a pirate. I finished 2 manuscripts in my life: 1 was about Lucifer getting redeemed; 1 was about a woman falling in love with a married man.

I obviously have no morality.

Did I mention I was a deacon's daughter in RL?

Lissa said...

Hellion...I think you're a good pirate, and any one who can write as you do, has no worries. If you're happy with the content that you write that's what is important:)

terrio said...

I think making a character too stupid to live is much worse than having them cross some moral boundary. I recently gave up on a book at page 268 because at that point I hated the heroine. She did something I just couldn't believe and I didn't care what happened the rest of the way.

Hellion - you may be a pirate but you're an Amish pirate. Don't forget that part.

MsHellion said...

*LOL* Yeah, my moral boundaries usually markers itself against using words like "p*ssy" or "labia" or anything that actually refers to a specific part. My adjectives are "tamer"--nothing "juicy" or "jetting floods"

I'm unlikely to throw a sex scene that features more than a party of eight, since as an exemplary hostess, I hate it when all my guests are not having a good time or have enough activities or "fun" to keep them engaged...there are just certain limits to the phrase "the more the merrier" in a sex scene for me.

haleigh said...

Great topic! This reminds me of something Anna said on Tuesday, about making your characters face the consequences of their actions and choices.

I personally think, when it comes to possible influence on readers, especially young readers, it's just as important to focus on the consequences as the moral choices themselves. We're all flawed, and make immoral choices now and then, and are left to face how those choices effect ourselves and the people around us.

terrio said...

Great point, Haleigh. That's what drives me nuts about kids today - there are no consequences! I have a friend whose daughter did something terrible - like sneak out in the night, steal a relative's car, drank and caught by the cops. No punishment. Nada. WTF????

I can tell you there would have been consequences for me. There is no deterrent now so it's almost like the line between right and wrong has been blurred.

*steps off soapbox*

Sorry, I'll shut up now. LOL!

haleigh said...

Terrio - that's exactly the point I was trying (ineffectively) to make. That just as important as seeing characters make good, moral choices is seeing characters having to pay the consequences for making poor choices. Regardless of whether or not we're actually 'punished,' our decisions always effect those around us, and representing that in writing, I think, is almost as important as representing characters who make the right choice in the first place. Though no character is perfect!

terrio said...

You're right, that is just as important. And they don't always have to deal with those consequences well either. I think having them face the results of their choices and behaviors is what makes them real. Having them react the wrong way, makes them human.

And that's where the courage thing comes back into play. As writers, we have to have the courage to *go there* and the courage to not always wrap it up in a nice neat bow.

And you said it perfectly the first time, it just got me fired up. LOL! My daughter is always told if you choose to do that, this will happen. And I never bluff so she knows I mean it. I think it makes a big difference in making kids into responsible and thinking adults.

Now someone remind me of that when she's 17. *g*

Sin said...

Wow. You can sign in with just about any web ID you have now.. how cool is that?!

Lis, I swear, I've been trying to comment all day. I hate Friday.

*grin* I love characters with questionable moral code. It strays more into the gray area and they aren't afraid to do what's right regardless.

I'm a pretty liberal person. Always have been, probably always will be. What keeps me on the straight is my conscience and writing characters that you love, you ultimately give them a conscience. Keep them from going too wrong.

There is more freedom in my writing life than there is in my day to day life. Like I mentioned before, I can write a scene that would never happen to me if it was real life. But it can happen to my character because I'm in control (somewhat) of my character's destinies.

My bad guys are ultimate bad guys. Not only flawed seriously, but no conscience. And to me that's what defines the difference.

I totally went OT. Yeesh.

Lis, this was a great blog hon.

Tessa Dare said...

This is something I've gone round and around with myself. I grew up a PK, and though my own beliefs are rather more liberal than those I grew up with, I still consider myself a believer. I originally had some internal conflict about writing romance. However, I decided that was stemming more from worrying about what other people thought of me than from what I personally thought was "moral". I think God's all for love, sex, romance, and happily ever after - even if they occur a bit out of the prescribed order at times (because let's face it - in real life they often do).

The nifty thing (IMO) about writing a Regency is, it wouldn't really occur to the characters to have this postmodern "Is God dead?" angst that our culture has, nor would they feel the need to be stridently evangelical. In my mind, they would have identified as Christians the way they would have identified as English - they just were. Which I find rather freeing, as a writer, because I can let them think about/talk about/reference God as a natural matter of course - which is as it should be, IMO. However, it seems like more of a big deal to put that kind of dialog in a modern. As Janga says, there are these lines drawn between mainstream contemp and inspirational that make it hard to navigate the boundary.

Thanks for a thought-provoking topic!

terrio said...

That is a good point, Tessa. I know in Regencies (historicals in general) they talk about going to church and it's no big deal. But straight contemps rarely mention it. It reminds me of something I've noticed in my life.

In my early 20s I lived in Pittsburgh and had a very close-knit group of friends. They all knew my sister and I were Catholic because we got that dirt mark on our foreheads every year but I have no idea what religion any of them were raised with. Or if they were raised with anything.

But when I moved to the south, that was one of the first things anyone asked me and I knew what everyone was too. It's a very regional thing.

I included my hero wondering into a church and thought about how far I was going to take the religion references. The scene didn't work and got cut but may come back re-worked later on. I think it can have a place in a contemp without being preachy or having to change the sub-genre.

Janga said...

Terri, I think religion can have a place in contemporaries without being preachy too, but so often it seems to me that contemporary romances,other than inspirationals, rarely mention religion at all. What I want to do is create characters whose faith is real but not narrow and sectarian. I want to be free to have my hero and heroine drink a glass of wine, let temper and frustration provoke less than pristine language, and experience real passion and also show that they are characters who believe, pray, and worship. I want them to be fully human with bodies, minds, and spirits.

Tessa, Teresa Medeiros has a great answer on her web site for those who question how she reconciles her faith and her romance writing.

irisheyes said...

Man, Lissa, this was an awesome blog. Great discussion ladies. I wish I could have been in on it from the beginning. I was pretty much out of commission most of today.

I love books with real characters with real flaws but I also love seeing their redemption. I do believe I have a moral compass or code and I would have to write characters that I could respect (even if it had to happen toward the end of the book instead of the beginning).

I grew up Catholic (12 years!). I've been known at times as a goody two shoes. As my sainted mother would say "she wouldn't say sh&t if she had a mouthful!" (the older I get the more I say sh$t even without a mouthful). I consider myself more spiritual nowadays than religious. Like Janga I don't know that I could seperate who I am from what I write.

I do think it would be refreshing to read contemporaries where religion or faith was a part of the characters lives without it being pegged an inspirational or it being preachy. Janga and Terri - you go girls! LOL

It is amazing that a lot of the historicals have that element just because it was such an integral part of their lives. There was no such thing as political correctness or even a doubt about whether there was a God or not. Like Tessa pointed out - it was just who they were and it wasn't questioned.

Lissa said...

Tessa and Irish thank you both for your thought provoking comments.

Tessa I love the realization of religion in historical characters. If we are raised in a faith based atmosphere we carry that with us through out our lives. It is who we are, and there is no separation.

Irish- If you are out of commision because of illness I hope you feel better soon! I agree with you. I would like to see more contemporaries have a religious theme and not be pegged as inspirational. To me that's sterotyping or labeling due to religious beliefs.

Lissa said...

Sin~ Your Fridays are like mine...crazy!

Thanks for commenting Babe:) And it doesn't matter if Ash has morals or not, I love to love him...And we both know Ranger has shifty morals, but he always does right for our girl when push comes to shove.