Writers: Are You Careful With Your Power?

A video that illustrates my point. Just be warned: there is a weird sock puppet in it. I don’t know what Hank was thinking that day.

Here’s what we’ve learned so far:

  • Fiction creates reality.
  • As writers, we have a responsibility to make that reality a better one.

But there’s one important caveat to these two points.

You are wrong.

Think about it. There are more than seven billion people on this planet.

7,000,000,000 people.

Each of those people has his own set of opinions: hundreds of opinions, from a trivial preference for creamy peanut butter to heavy issues like capital punishment, abortion, or gay marriage.

No two people have exactly the same set of opinions. So what do you think the chances are that just one of those seven billion people is right about everything?

Now what do you think the chances are that you are that person?

The overwhelming odds are that you are wrong about something. And that I am wrong about something. Probably a lot of things. Probably serious things.

And just as writers have the power to change the world for the better, we have the power to lead people astray. Without even realizing it, we infuse our worldview into everything we write. And if just a part of that worldview is wrong, we could actually be making the world a darker, more confused place.

Think about some of the most basic questions that determine worldview:

  • Is there absolute truth?
  • Is there a God?
  • Do right and wrong exist?
  • Are we designed for a specific purpose, or is it all chance?
  • Are humans just more evolved animals, or does something else set us apart?

None of these questions can be conclusively answered by hard science. Yet the answer to any one of them has profound, far-reaching effects on how we should live our lives and run our world.

So what’s the solution? If we can’t know who’s right about what, how can we take precautions against leading others astray?

Well, there’s no magic answer to that question, of course. But here are four rules to keep in mind:

  1. Learn to read between the lines—even in your own work—and recognize what beliefs you are implying.
  2. Question the logic and the basis of your own beliefs. Know what you believe and why.
  3. Instead of calling those who disagree with you “evil” or “stupid,” work to see their side and to portray it fairly: try to identify the difference in core beliefs that makes something right in their eyes and wrong in yours (or vice versa). For instance, I know I disagree with Hank, the guy in the video above, on some major issues. But I also know he’s a very smart, very good guy.
  4. Last: tread carefully when you make moral claims; rather than make sweeping statements, ask questions that encourage your readers to think for themselves.

Thanks, everyone, for reading—and thanks again to Raina and the whole gang here at WritersClubKL for hosting me. It’s been a treat!

This is the final part in a three-part guest post series by Stephanie Orges, a professional copywriter, avid blogger, aspiring novelist and barely passable ukulele player who offers writing prompts, advice and philosophy at BeKindRewrite.com