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A Writer’s Responsibility

This is a craft blog and we obviously talk about the craft of writing a lot. We talk about voice and dialogue, narrative arcs, characterization, but something that writers for children often don’t talk about is responsibility.

Yes, the dreaded ‘r’ word.

I was trying to think about why we don’t do this, and I’ve come up with two reasons.

1. We don’t want to be didactic, you know  like one of those talk-show program hosts type writers who hit you over the head with clichés and parables about what it means to be a good person and/or good writer and/or how to not have your significant other cheat on you.

2. We are afraid of our responsibility and so it becomes very hush-hush. If we don’t mention it, we don’t have to think about it. That sort of thing.

But being cognizant of our responsibility as a writer is integral to the choices we make in our craft. How and what we chose to characterize, the actions that create the story, the theme, all have to do with this responsibility to make the best possible stories for kids. Because, let’s face it: Kids deserve the best possible stories.

That’s a big responsibility.

And no matter what you think of authors’ abilities, their use of adverbs in dialogue tags, etc… It’s this responsibility that matters and when you do it: your stories are remembered and magic and true. When you take that responsibility to be as good as you can (to explore yourself and your craft and experiment and work to make it better), you impact kids forever.

J.K. Rowling does it in Harry Potter. You shut the books and you are still in the world, flying on broomsticks, believing in good children who are flawed but strong, a place where a girl can grow a cat tail and a boy can be a hero. Roald Dahl does it with a giant peach full of talking bugs.

As writers it’s our responsibility to try to create worlds and characters that capture a kid’s heart and imagination the way Rowling or Dahl does. But part of that responsibility entails making books that aren’t just about white kids, wealthy kids, able-bodied kids, straight kids. Part of that responsibility entails stepping outside ourselves and embracing the magic and wonder and adventure and pain of childhood and teenhood (Yes, that’s not a word) and allowing ourselves the choice to experiment with it.

How do you do that? What’s the craft part of that?

Here is the simplest thing to do: 
Be brave in your choices. If you are a man who has an idea for a story about a giant peach, write it. If you are a woman who thinks up a story about a boy wizard, write it. If you are a white, well-educated man who thinks up a story about a slave in the Revolutionary War era, write it. If you are woman who has a gay male character clamoring to be heard, write him.

Be fearless.

If you were bullied and it hurts to go back and relive those emotions even in a fictional way, some day when you are feeling brave enough, try. That bravery in you will translate into hope for someone else, or it may allow a kid to read your words and think, “I am not alone.” 

And that is a very good thing. 


( 33 comments — Leave a comment )
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Jul. 19th, 2010 10:27 pm (UTC)
Carrie, This is maybe The Best Post Ever. Because I realize that my current project has sucked me in for precisely the reasons you mentioned.

New Mantra:
Be Brave. Be Fearless. Believe.
Jul. 26th, 2010 06:57 pm (UTC)
That is seriously the BEST NEWS EVER. I am soooo glad it was timely for you!
Jul. 19th, 2010 11:52 pm (UTC)
old writer
Back when I was in high school & college I wrote a lot. I was writing a novel that I wanted to publish one day. NOW when I look back on what I wrote, it was so good! I try to continue where I left off and you can literally draw a LINE where I picked it back up again, it is so different (and much much worse)! I can only think that it is because I lack the angst that I had back then (now I am married with children). How do I get back to the quality I had then??? My perspective is so different now that reliving some of what went on at that time just makes me look at it from a different angle now! Sigh...
Jul. 26th, 2010 06:59 pm (UTC)
Re: old writer
That’s so hard, isn’t it? See, because I lack any maturity and have failed to evolved at all, I don’t have that problem. ;)
I bet it isn’t worse. Don’t doubt yourself. You can do it. Try starting from the beginning and switching the pov. Or... is there a way you can make that line-in-the-sand a purposeful thing, part of the structure of the story that indicates a huge break in personality for the narrator? Sometimes the things we see as the biggest flaws can become the things that make us (or our writing) outstanding.
Jul. 20th, 2010 12:00 am (UTC)
Totally agree with you, Carrie. The responsibility I feel when I write is to be honest with my readers. No sugar-coating issues and also, letting my characters be who they are.

Edited at 2010-07-20 12:00 am (UTC)
Jul. 26th, 2010 07:00 pm (UTC)
I love that you’re like that, Julia.
(no subject) - juliakarr - Jul. 27th, 2010 01:03 am (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 20th, 2010 12:05 am (UTC)
Awesome post, Carrie.I have every intention of writing a story about a girl with an eating disorder--and not the "popular" ones (gosh, that sounds horrible) but binge and compulsive overeating. Until I'm ready (and I get these other ideas out of my head first), I make certain my teens are of different races, like the world I grew up in. :)
Jul. 26th, 2010 07:04 pm (UTC)
That will be such a great book when you write it, Jenn. I can’t wait for it.
Jul. 20th, 2010 12:06 am (UTC)
Amazing post. Very well said. ^^
Jul. 26th, 2010 07:05 pm (UTC)
Re: :D
Thank you, anonymous. ;)
Jul. 20th, 2010 12:25 am (UTC)
Carrie, great blog! I have 16 twin daughters and 13 son! Books have everything to do with there life, and I know this because the same books affect me as well! Books are entertaining, influential, and inspiring! To say a writer does not have a responsibility would be completely wrong, writer's can have a bigger affect on our lives than the President of the United States(depending on which President we are talking about), sometimes! Erain Weems-Scaggs via Facebook
Jul. 26th, 2010 07:12 pm (UTC)
Re: responsability
Erain, you are awesome. Thank you so much for commenting AND for what you said (hugs)
Jul. 20th, 2010 12:56 am (UTC)
Contest? Ah, you tempt me so. Carrie, you're awesome. You're a luminary. This post is so inspiring. You make me want to believe that being disabled doesn't mean I'm weak or some sort of waste of space. And yes, when people say the "D" word it makes me cringe. But writers like you and R.J. Andersen make me smile. So thanks for that. I'm looking forward to your next book.
Jul. 26th, 2010 07:13 pm (UTC)
Sienna, You crack me up. And I am so glad that I make you want to believe that - you should believe that. You are so very VERY far from EVER being a waste of space.

Jul. 20th, 2010 12:58 am (UTC)
As someone who not only writes, but teaches middle school, THANK YOU for this post! It is true writers do have a responsibility to their readers (as do editors & publishing houses). My kids deserve great, honest writing. Not a tome that pats them on their heads and serves up platitudes on a platter, but true-to-THEIR world writing.
Great post!
Jul. 26th, 2010 07:14 pm (UTC)
Re: Thanks!
Great comment! I am so glad you write and teach. You’re a writing/kid soldier really, making the world such a better place.

*applauds wildly for you*
Jul. 20th, 2010 01:11 am (UTC)
Ironic you posted this today. I just posted an interview with Kimberley Little Griffiths on her new book, The Healing Spell, and that is the same feeling I got about the book. That she was brave to take it on. Thanks, Carrie! -Kai
Jul. 26th, 2010 07:14 pm (UTC)
That’s wild. I’ll have to go check it out. Very cool.
Jul. 20th, 2010 02:34 am (UTC)
Wow..that was really inspiring. I never thought about writer's responsibility before. I have a friend that want loves to write I am going to have her read this to get her going in the "write" direction.

I like what you said about being brave with your choices. I recently began reading a lot of young adult books and I love them. I fell back in love with reading when I read Evermore, Need, Twilight and City of Bones. I sold a lot of my "adult" books and bought more teen books.

One my age has to be brave to walk down the teen aisle in B&N and leave with a handful of books...now I really feel like a cougar...only for books :)
Jul. 26th, 2010 07:20 pm (UTC)
Re: JTaylor
You crack me up. I am so glad you are a book cougar. That’s the best image ever, really.
Jul. 20th, 2010 04:33 am (UTC)
A writer's responsibility
I like what you said about kids deserving the best possible stories. I'm a teacher ( and a fan of your books!) and I've never thought about it that way. I would also add its up adults to expose children to good stories. I've heard many people complain about Harry Potter but have never opened one book and read how wonderful it is. But I've also read how children (and adults) are zapped into another world of castles, wizards, and witches and have forgotten the harsh reality in that moment of reading.....

Adults should be more opened minded and embrace stories for what they are....really good stories for all us big and little kids.

Jul. 26th, 2010 07:22 pm (UTC)
Re: A writer's responsibility
R, you have such great GREAT points. Adults SHOULD embrace stories for what they are. I am so glad you’re a teacher. Your students are lucky to have you.
Jul. 20th, 2010 09:22 am (UTC)
Well said Carrie Jones.
Jul. 20th, 2010 01:14 pm (UTC)
I think about responsibility all the time when I write, and I'd guess most of my writing friends do (we also remind each other of responsibility sometimes). But we do often talk about it in other terms, probably because of the no-I'm-not-being-didactic-really thing.
Jul. 26th, 2010 03:08 pm (UTC)
Hey Philia_fan. You won a free copy of Captivate or Need (if you want it). Can you send me your address?
(no subject) - philia_fan - Jul. 26th, 2010 07:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 20th, 2010 01:40 pm (UTC)
Carrie - It is hard to be brave. To write about something personal and real is to show yourself to everyone. (I wonder if that is why some authors publish under different names). But I think it is so great when people are able to do that. You said this so well!

P.S. I already have an autographed copy of "Captivate" so, as much as I LOVE anything from you, you can take my name out of the drawing for this contest so someone who doesn't have one gets the chance to win :)
Jul. 26th, 2010 07:16 pm (UTC)
Carrie, you are so awesome. It IS hard to be brave sometimes, isn’t it?
Jul. 20th, 2010 11:25 pm (UTC)

I couldn't agree more with this post if I tried. Writerly responsibility is something I think about all the time, and I love seeing it brought up here at the Tollbooth. :)
Jul. 26th, 2010 07:15 pm (UTC)
I KNEW that YOU would think about it all the time. You are awesome. xo
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