Recently, a curious question was posed on one of the many forums I follow. Many of the people following this forum are professional freelance writers, published authors, and aspiring authors. The question was “Is it a writer’s duty to be the voice of his/her society?” Interesting question, is it not? Does a writer compose with the voice of the people in mind or does a writer compose based purely on desire of the subject matter?
One could argue that the media holds a fiduciary responsibility to the people, to ensure the content that they are providing across the airways via television, radio, and movies, will take into consideration the audience that may be watching and listening. The same could be said of writers.
In the past, there was the expectation of the news media to provide a litany of truthful reports, rather than the abomination of opinion reporting we are subjected to more often than not today. One needs only watch one news report on a particular subject, then switch to another news reporting agency to listen to a report on the same subject, only to find two entirely different underlying tones. Both, obviously choosing to report more on a subjective basis than objective basis.
So where does that leave the writer who views their trade more as an art than a product of a society smothered in political subterfuge? Is the writer of fiction held to a level of responsibility to ensure their content reflects the voice of his/her society? After all, it is fiction.
Of course, even in fiction, there is an element of fact. In order to write good fiction, the story must track. It must be, somewhat, believable. In order to accomplish that task, a great deal of research is often involved.
For instance, a good murder mystery requires research of the environment that the story takes place in. Not to mention, law enforcement regulations, anatomy and physiology, and an understanding of weaponry. Even Science Fiction requires research. A writer may be able to dream up a fictitious, far away planet inhabited by an Alien species, but the story will require an elemental understanding of space physiology at the very least.
Even though writing fiction is a very different beast than writing non-fiction, there must be an element of truth reflected in the story to engage the reader. Therefore, by association, the question of a writer’s duty would still apply, if in fact a writer does have a duty to be the voice of his/her society.
The author of a Historical Novel will no doubt combine a great deal of research with the art of telling an interesting story. This is most likely one of the major fiction arenas that requires more factual based context than Science Fiction or a Romance Novel. Yet, by design, the Historical Novel is still a work of fiction unless otherwise stated.
Another freelance writing area that many authors center their work on, is Children’s Stories and Children’s Books. How much fact is actually included in a book written solely for the purpose of providing entertainment for young children? Yet, if we hold to the concept that “children are our future,” then it is also presumed that the writer would have a duty to be the voice of his/her society. In essence, in writing for children, the duty or responsibility become even greater to ensure the content reflects well on society.
When professing to write factual content, then the answer to the question is clear. Yes, a writer has a duty to be the voice of his/her society. The writer is responsible for providing truth, not opinion, honest factual based content is presumed by the reader. The question still remains whether a writer of fiction is held to some level of this duty.
In a society overrun with games, music, and movies depicting some of the most heinous of crimes against humanity, the question of a writer’s duty is most fair to ask. These products would not be available without the creative processes of a writer of some kind. To perpetuate the cycle of violence and criminal behavior for the sake of “entertainment” could easily be considered a lack of duty on the part of the writer.