Who says what?

Novelist, mother, minister, and yoga teacher muses on books, babies, motherhood, and what matters with reverent humor.

Monday, January 25, 2010

An Ethical Writer

I've just finished another book where (it seems to me) the writer kills off a character in order to keep the story line rolling or even as a last ditch attempt to revive a saggy plot. Now, I'm no critic of plots. I stink at them and do much better with character, but it seems a little low-down to me to go and kill someone off just to sell a novel. Especially when that character is the only person in the book who has a child. Why kill the mother?

I'm sure no one will agree with me. I'm not worried about that or interested in agreement. I just want to state for the record that I believe there ought to be an ethics to novel writing. It's one thing to write a history or a biography or a historical novel where you've got to throw in a few gory details for accuracy's sake, it's quite another to invent an entire fiction of tragedy and despair.

Pardon me but isn't the world full of enough sorrow without having to make it up?

As for me, if I want to be discouraged, I'll read the newspaper.

I think of novels in the old fashioned way. As entertainment. And while it may shock some to know this, most of the great American novelist where trying to entertain. They didn't write in archaic, dated English to confound the minds of high schoolers forced to read their novels. They wrote for their contemporaries, telling stories of contemporary life. Call me old fashioned, I find the gratuity unnecessary.

We're a nation of rubber neckers. Should we pride ourselves on this?

Whether we like it or not, what we see and what we read are equal to what we eat. We digest the stuff. It comes into us and for better or worse becomes a part of being (albeit sometimes in a very small way).

I've said to people, and not in complete irony, that if I wanted to write the great American novel I would have had to kill off more of my characters, add some abuse, neglect and rape, and a good dose of injustice. Can we at least hanker after the easier parts of our world as we do the harder? They are just as true, as far as I can see.

So no one is going to go out and make an ethics of novel writing--anymore than the broadcasting stations are going to take the garbage off the television that does no one any good--in any way. (And I'm not saying I don't watch garbage. I do. Just garbage without fictitious death, destruction, cruelty and despair.) But perhaps in this Prozac nation we may take a little more care with our own selves, just as we do with how we treat our bodies. After all, we want to think ourselves into a better world, don't we? Not hang out with the poltergeists of our historic mistakes. Right?


  1. "if I wanted to write the great American novel I would have had to kill off more of my characters, add some abuse, neglect and rape, and a good dose of injustice."

    And yet you did - you killed off the pre-baby self and marriage of the main character, as happens to all of us when our first child is born.

    Abuse and neglect? Hell yes - Our babies abuse us, nay even torture us (you do know that sleep deprivation is classified as a form of prohibited torture, right?), and we put up with it, for the most part.

    And injustice - that for women, the world and everything in it is absolutely transformed when we have a child, while for men, they maintain the illusion that they (and the world) are still the same as always, and can continue to just go about their business.

    The difference is, you did it with humor and compassion. Which is why YOUR great American novel is so fun to read. :)

  2. Hey Tzipporah, will you be my best friend?
    And maybe also my publicist?

  3. I thought I already was! :)

    Ok, well, not the publicist part. But feel free to steal my comments for your book cover. "Noted blogger Tzipporah..." yeah, never mind.

  4. You are. But you know what I mean. If you weren't, you would be.
    How about leading my fan club? That would be good.