Thursday, October 4, 2018

Truth and Controversy in Writing

Truth—or lack thereof—and controversy seem to hang over us like a thermal inversion in a windless desert valley, where the smog of dissension and division dictate the behavior of distressed residents. Normally calm, rational people react to this toxic environment with unprecedented anger as they spew forth vile language and violent demonstrations against what they perceive to be a threat to their belief systems and lifestyles.


Is that threat real? Only time will tell. Will vocal and physical resistance stem the tide of unwanted change? Again, time holds the answer. Can writers weave the growing unrest into the fabric of their stories? Of course, but beware. Unwarranted assumption and words quoted out of context can send misleading or false messages to the reader and incite an ugly retaliatory response. The war of words is then on, and the battle rages.

Newspapers, magazines, television programs, and documentaries report truths, half-truths, unverified stories, and personal opinion, frequently presented as though all "facts" had been researched and proven  accurate. Sadly, many of today's news stories would not receive a passing grade from any of my journalism instructors several decades ago, when accuracy and integrity counted for a significant portion of a student's grade. Neither would they have been presented to the public until every "fact" had been documented and all remnants of personal opinion removed. I was taught that opinion pieces appeared on the editorial page, and content was clearly acknowledged to be that of its writer and not the publication.


What about that editorial page? Do opinion pieces work? Have you heard of Thomas Paine? His political writings are credited with influencing the Revolutionary War and helping to inspire the Declaration of Independence. However, they were clearly his opinion, and his readers knew that. This speaks volumes about the effectiveness of the op-ed.


Another path exists for the expression of political opinion and community concern. Both fiction and nonfiction books often depict the mentality of the time in which they are set. Current events inspire numerous reporters and commentators to expound on their take of what's happening, as well as its short-term and long-term impact on society.

Fiction writers, on the other hand, can use current settings and events to comment on public figures and troubling scenarios through their characters. They can choose to be in the reader's face, or they can subtly and discreetly use logic and gentle persuasion. In either case, beware of writer intrusion. For the work to be most effective, it needs to be a natural outgrowth of the character's personality, not an obvious insertion by the author.


We live in troubled times. Controversy and contentiousness challenge compromise and collaboration in so many situations. Are we all affected? Definitely. Yet, our unique gifts as wordsmiths offer us a variety of platforms through which to reach people. These gifts, however, come with great responsibility because of their potential impact. Our articles, editorials, books, and stories can educate, warn, console, encourage, and accurately inform those living now, as well as future generations. It is essential that we speak in truth rather than controversy. Just as in the time of Thomas Paine, the pen is mightier than the sword.

Editor Linda Lane has returned to her first love—writing—while maintaining her editing work. Her novels fall into the literary category because they are character driven rather than plot driven, but their quick pace reminds the reader of genre fiction. They also contain elements of romance, mystery, and romance. You can contact her through her websites: LSLaneBooks.com and DenverEditor.com.

17 comments :

  1. Powerful sentence here; "For the work to be most effective, it needs to be a natural outgrowth of the character's personality, not an obvious insertion by the author."

    Well said Linda!

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    1. I agree! I've started (and stopped) reading several novels where the preaching takes over the story.

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    2. Shannon, as an editor and fiction writer, I have found that we can make strong statements and appeal to readers if we allow our characters to speak THEIR minds based on who THEY are. Their position is then theirs alone and not ours——at least in the eyes of the reader.

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    3. Patricia, writers as well as entertainers are sometimes prone to assume they can influence their fans' belief systems simply because of who they are. Like you, I will stop reading (or watching) at that point, and they've lost a follower.

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  2. I would like to see a return to balanced journalism over the cult of personality. Street corners and soapboxes have always been available to people to spew stupidity, but it was contained somewhat by geography. Now we have the internet.

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    1. Ah, yes, the internet——sometimes a mixed blessing. As for balance, I hope it returns, but I'm not holding my breath. Bluish purple is not a good color for me, and it's what I'll be if I don't breathe.

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  3. I've cut way back on "news" shows and social media because of the rhetoric. Real journalism has died a horrible death and we're left with opinion masquerading as fact.

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    1. I agree wholeheartedly. As individuals we do still have a choice. If we maintain our integrity in the face of all that is happening in journalism, perhaps we may reach some who are as appalled as we are through our works. By the way, you do a beautiful job of making strong comments on the human condition in your Wishing Caswell Dead, and you do it so well through the personalities of your characters. Great job, Pat!

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  4. What an excellent article. Sometimes I think I learned more in seventh-grade journalism class than is displayed in "news" shows today. "It is essential that we speak in truth rather than controversy" is crucial for all of us to move forward and work together to solve our real problems.

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    1. You've made an excellent point, Diane. Real problems will never be solved as long as controversy rules the roost.

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  5. This is a message all writers need to heed. Thank you for it, Linda!

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  6. Excellent piece, Linda. I write a lot about current events in my book, and I do take on contentious subjects. I try not to make the stories exposés parroting my viewpoints, but I'm not sure I'm always successful. As long as "journalists" label their pieces as opinion, I have no problem. We are living in different times and need to judge the political posts from that perspective.

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  7. Absolutely, Polly. Our characters can share our views and our concerns very effectively as long as we keep them "in character." In fact, done right, this is often what great fiction is made of.

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  8. What a great post, Linda. I, too, learned the difference between a news story and an op-ed piece early in my journalism career, and I cringe to see what passes for news reporting now.

    A recent FB posting reminded us of Walter Cronkite, who came into our homes every evening to report the news, "just the facts and nothing but the facts." It was a better time for journalists then.

    And I loved this line from your post: "It is essential that we speak in truth rather than controversy." I fear that some journalists are adding to the great divide in this country.

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    1. When I first began writing novels, I didn't think a lot about the impact a fiction story can have on readers. As the story progressed and the primary plot focused on the journey of a suddenly widowed middle-aged woman, I realized the developing secondary plot had taken on a life of its own—that of domestic violence. One of my beta readers was particularly affected by the realistic scenes (which were based on actual events), and she made a number of suggestions for softening certain sections because they were too true to life. Now, hopefully, the final version of the story reaches out in hope to those whose lives are lived under the thumb of an abuser. Even in fiction, I learned, we need to temper our words with the purpose of lifting up rather than crushing our readers.

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.