There Is a Right Way to Fix Misinformation in Fiction (Hint: It’s Not About Blame)

In a way, then, maybe it is partially up to us – up to you – to pay attention to, to be mindful of, the messages you send in your stories.

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We have a job, as writers. And that job is to tell stories. One after another after another, each their own, but sometimes with common themes and morals sprinkled throughout.

However, the act of telling a story is much more complicated than you might initially perceive. Not the writing itself, not the creativity behind it, but the facts, the truths, woven through it. The foundations from which the plots of all stories are built.

A story can be completely fictional but still tell the truth. A bit of truth, one one page here and another there. It’s the way we, writers, frame the story. It’s the lens through which we show our readers the characters, and explain their behavior, if their behavior needs explaining.

The framework from which we develop these ideas does come from somewhere. Though it might seem as though ideas appear out of thin air, they all have influences. We have influences. We pick and choose the way those influences shape our opinions and the way we see the world.

In a way, then, maybe it is partially up to us – up to you – to pay attention to, to be mindful of, the messages you send in your stories. The way you portray certain cultures, beliefs and populations. Whether or not your stories convey that certain behaviors are wrong, even if they are never punished. Whether or not you communicate that a writer’s job is not necessarily to stand up for something, but to provide the fuel that motivates readers to stand up for themselves.

People in general are very quick to blame, and often it isn’t what they blame, but whom. Sometimes writers are targeted because of the way readers respond to their work, when in reality, the blame should never be tossed onto the writer. At least not on the writer alone. How someone responds to a story, that is not the writer’s fault. Writers are messengers. Blame the message. Whether the writer originally meant to convey that particular message or not.

Fine. What happens when a writer makes a mistake (which, in case you haven’t realized, happens to every living being on the planet) and sends the wrong message? People get upset, obviously. People blame. People try to make sense of the misinformation.

And maybe, in some cases, we’re all better off for it.

For there is a lesson in every error. With every word of misinformation comes the opportunity for someone new to be informed. That isn’t to say that we should misinform on purpose: of course not. In fact, there is a way, possibly only one way, to fix misinformation in fiction, and that is, as both a reader and a writer, to first be informed yourself, before informing others.

Yes. As a reader and a writer, we have to do work. We have to learn and understand. Which makes our jobs harder, and more time-consuming.

But, as I always say: if it were easy, it wouldn’t be worth it, now would it?

Image courtesy of Eden, Janine and Jim/flickr.com.

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