Monday 24 September 2018

The Ethics of Writing

by Tory Hayward

Ethics and writing seems straightforward enough at first. Do not plagiarise, and that is about it. Don't take the work of others and pass it off as your own.

But if we dig a little deeper it becomes much less simple. Writing a story produces a 'truth,' or as Judy Nunn said in an interview on the Morning Show on the ABC the other week, "Reading is always a learning experience." Even when the reader knows they are reading fiction, they still learn from what you have written.

So does that then behoove writers to write meticulously researched novels? To produce some educational tome? Well of course not. It's fiction. Real facts can be woven into our stories, but in some instances there are no real facts. Our stories are imaginary worlds, and it's perfectly acceptable that our facts are imaginary too. How can the writer who has her romance set on a planet in a distant galaxy be writing something based on an accepted fact? Neither she nor her reader expect it.

Which brings us to the issue of context. Can the Aussie-born writer with no Asian heritage write an Asian heroine? And if not, where is the line that a writer cannot cross? Can an erotica writer write a story that romanticises a taboo relationship?

As we all know, a writer can write whatever they like, and in these days of self-publishing can find somewhere to publish it. And this is how it should be. Imagine for a moment a world where there were rules about who could write what. It would be a grey, dictatorial world at the very least.

I like to subscribe to Oscar Wilde's view:
Books are well written or badly written. That is all.
So go forth, my writerly friends. Leap into our uncensored world where it is ethical to write unethically. Twist facts, push the status quo, and let truth in your writing simply be your truth.  Everything is possible.


  1. A controversial topic, Tory. As part of the 'older generation', I fear I couldn't condone a writer romanticising a taboo relationship.

    I think we need strong ethics. We need to be very careful with the message we send women about what is and is not acceptable in a relationship as we want to reinforce women's rights, and that it is heroic behaviour to respect a woman.

    As far as research goes, most historical writers will be howled down if one fact or another is out of place - even the most inconsequential facts which don't at all detract from the story.

    Will be interested to see what others think. Thanks for your thought-provoking article.

  2. Of course an Aussie born author can write an Asian hero. The same as they can write a Spanish, Greek, Italian, British, American or any other variation of. We can and we have. This was one person's opinion based on her belief that you can only write what you are. This is not true and hopefully it never will be.

    1. Totally agree with you and Tory on that one, Cassandra! As female writers we write male points of view, we write different ages in history, and I've written international characters!
      I haven't seen the comments that has created all the hoo-ha about the boxed set that was by non-Asian writers writing as Asian characters...I think that's what you guys are referring to? I don't find a non-Asian author writing an Asian hero a problem at all!

  3. If we ban writers from writing certain topics, then it's only fair that singers can't sing about certain topics either. And dancers can't dance certain dances. And actors can't act in certain films. The list can go on but that's taking ethics way, way, too far off the track. I agree with Alyssa about not condoning a writer romanticising a taboo relationship and being accurate with historical facts, but other than that a writer should be able to write what they want. I write paranormal romances and I don't know any paranormal beings. That doesn't mean I can't write them.

    1. Think about crime writers writing murders too! Imagine if they had to go out and commit the crime/murders in order to write about it!! (Although I guess that'd make it easier for the police to catch them!!!)

    2. Wasn't there a recent case where this very thing happened? Where a female crime writer was accused of murdering her husband? Not sure what the upshot was but it's crazy to think about.

  4. Omigosh, what a sad old world it would be if we could only write about our own culture, gender and place in time. I love the freedom of being able to use any time, any place and any culture as fodder for my imagination.

  5. What an inspiring post, Tory. Thank you. I agree with Alyssa re not romanticising a taboo relationship. Some authors may feel differently about this. You've certainly started me thinking harder about this topic.

  6. If writers could only write what they’ve experienced, then I’d have the most bland book in the world! Reading about adventures I’m never likely to have is part of my reading excitement, I’m an armchair world traveller and loving it. I disagree with people who have said you can only write ‘what you are’ - in that case there’d be a lot of books with only men or only women in them, and forget the chance to include people from another cultural background. There goes most of the books of the Western world. The recent Twitter storm is disagreeable and confronting and unrealistic and shows a very unpleasant side of some people’s dogmatic stance. Just keep bringing me lovely romance and I’ll keep reading them. I don’t really care where the characters come from as long as I can fall in love with or empathise with them. Although I do draw the line at murdering my husband...! In that case truth was stranger than fiction...!


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