Fact, Fiction, and the Writer's Responsibility to the Truth

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Title: Fact, Fiction, and the Writer's Responsibility to the Truth
Creator: nospeud
Date(s): September 16, 2003
Medium: online
Topic: Fanfiction, RPF
External Links: Fact, Fiction, and the Writer's Responsibility to the Truth, Archived version
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Fact, Fiction, and the Writer's Responsibility to the Truth is an essay by nospeud.

It is part of the Fanfic Symposium series.


A lot of celebrity fantasy stories doesn't appeal to me personally. I don't especially want to read about actors, because by and large actors are fairly dull people. Actually, I don't even want to read about what celebrities are getting up to in the real world. The personal lives of actors and boybands interests me not at all. I'd rather read about fictional people, who usually lead more interesting lives.

Beyond that, celebrity fantasy stories do squick me a little. In the not so distant past, writing stories about actors was the one unforgivable sin of fanfiction. Writing that nasty SLASH about actors was...well, whatever the step beyond an unforgivable sin is. I have an instinctive reaction which says eww. I have the same thing but magnified for explicit photomanips, whether they feature the actor or the character. These are my personal emotional reactions.

However, I read and now write popslash. I read it because it's good quality fiction, there are excellent writers, and I find it an absolutely fascinating genre.

Where factual writing is concerned, I have a boring, absolutist position that says the writer has an obligation to tell the truth. Writing fiction and calling it factual is commonly known as 'telling lies'. I think this is generally a bad thing. I come from a profession — science — where telling the truth is expected, and where getting caught lying means the end of someone's career.

If people want to tell only part of the truth, then they should label the piece as their opinion.

However, once something is called fiction, all bets are off. There is no obligation on the writer to tell the truth, or represent the real world accurately. They can put stirrups and black leather on their Roman cavalry, they can have an American sub capture the Enigma codes, they can pretend that FTL travel is possible, or horribly misrepresent evolution for plot purposes. If people believe what they read or see in clearly labeled fiction — and people do — then their stupidity is their own problem, not the problem of the artist.

I take an absolute position on censorship of fiction. It's wrong. It's dangerous, and it's a very slippery slope to start down. I don't think there is anyone out there I would trust to say what fiction should or shouldn't be written. Certainly not me, and possibly not even my mother. I also believe that on of the very worst reasons for censoring fiction is that it upsets and offends people.
I think that everyone should take personal responsibility for what they write. Firstly, this means legal responsibility. While I doubt very much that writing celebrity fantasies carries any substantial risk of legal action in any individual case, it's something of which writers should be aware. However, that is equally true for all fanfic writers — the risk of the C&D letter is always there.

Secondly, it means accepting that what we write does have an effect on the people who read it, whoever they are. It's fine to say that an actor or singer should be used to fan behaviour, that it's part of the territory, that they can look after themselves, or that their families, partners or children won't care about the stories. It's fine to say that if they read the stories and are upset then they should have taken heed of the disclaimers. However, it's dishonest (which is not a word I use lightly) to say that there's no possibility of the subjects being distressed by celebrity fantasy stories. In the vast majority of cases, we have no idea whether they would be or not.

However, this applies to all bad consequences of writing. There is a possibility that a plethora of slash stories about someone character could hurt their feelings, the feelings of their partners or family, or even their career. I have no idea how realistic that latter possibility is. Until someone comes up with some research, there's no way of telling, but that doesn't mean that the possibility isn't there.