Creative writing and culpability

I may be paranoid (I suffer from scruples), but I have a moral/ethical dilemma.

I used to be a pretty decent creative writer and could work with any genre. Nowadays I have a pretty good plot for a sword/sandals fantasy type novel. And this may just be me overreacting, but even if I kept things moral and clean to a certain degree, what if someone reads my novel and acts on it? By this I mean, imitating a scene or something in real life that could hurt others or damage property.

Am I just being paranoid? I’m really good at writing, but I’m afraid that someone may act out on something. This whole things has me feeling down :frowning:

Relax. As long as you’re not actively writing propaganda intended to stir up people to act violently, you’re doing nothing wrong. If people take things the wrong way or can’t control themselves or understand the lines between fiction and reality, that’s on them.


I believe this is your scruples speaking. It depends on exactly what you write, but in general no, you are not responsible for someone trying to act it out. Granted, if you write an extremely graphic sex scene that violates most taboos and then have your characters exalt over how great it was for multiple chapters, then you may be encouraging others to those actions. If you research and write out effective ways to summon demons, with all the details in the book, followed by the main character using them and proclaiming them to be great, then you may be encouraging others to follow those steps. However, a murder mystery with a great cover-up followed by a greater detective, the understanding that murder is a serious crime and the murderer is a sinful person does not encourage others to depravity. Generally a book is written that people aspire to be like the heroes and avoid becoming the villains.

Basically, if you write things that are reasonable, have the good guys eventually triumph and do not encourage evil actions with your novel, there is no worry. There will always be people with mental issues that can take things out of context and turn them into items of imitation or worship, but you cannot change that. You can simply encourage good behavior. (I wouldn’t pick up a wand and cast spells like one of my favorite characters, but he gives me courage to stand up for what is right.) You can also discourage bad behavior. Most villains in good stories have bad things happen to them, so that you can say, “got your comeuppance.” (Why murder someone who annoys me when there is always a smarter secret anget who will discover what I’ve done and, when I try to fight him, wins definitively, either by my embarrassing arrest and destruction of my personal life, or by tricking me into my own shark tank before I could kill him and his lady love.)

Thanks for the replies.

I have an original idea, but in this day and age I’m just concerned about someone reading it and suddenly going to far with something. I just worry about how my art would influence others.

At the same time though I feel that creativity is a gift from God. He made me good at it and not using such a gift could be a bad thing. I’m just so back and forth on this whole issue.

You’re not being paranoid. I’ve been helping create worlds in most every fictional genre out there (no romance books). Anyway, remember, strong characters followed by an interesting setting are the building blocks. One thing I’ve noticed - especially recently - are profanity in manuscripts we get, which I edit out, and inappropriate scenes, which can include graphic gore or sexual situations. I don’t believe the average person is going to dress up, get an actual sharpened sword and attack someone. Unless there are castles in your vicinity, there’s no point in storming them. A good tank should do the job but they’re hard to get and not legal to own.

There was a newspaper comic strip from years back called “Prince Valiant.” You could buy a shield and a plastic sword or sometimes, kids would make swords from sticks. This was highly discouraged because getting hit with a stick sword could cause serious injury. Even a plastic sword was not a good idea.

A few pointers from a professional:

  1. Do not give precise instructions on picking locks or doing dangerous things. Just say the character, or part of his band, could pick locks. The end.

  2. The same with windows or starting fires. If it is clear in the story that the window was broken to get to the bad guy and save a friend, for example, then it’s OK. It wasn’t done for fun. Say the bad guy starts a fire in a building to smoke out our hero(es) or kill him/them. It’s clear that only a BAD guy would do this.

  3. Have very clear good guys and bad guys. I am tired that today’s fiction is filled with supposedly heroic characters that aren’t. They’ll beat up the bad guy or one of his henchmen and do other things that no hero with a Code of Honor would do. Your hero has a job to do: fight any being that threatens the lives of innocent people. That means wizards, dragons, evil noblemen, and anything else that clearly wants and prefers death and destruction. The same with saving people from slavers or kidnappers.

  4. Make sure your story includes a lot of twists and turns. There should be at least two encounters with the bad guy(s)/thing/monster, followed by the final encounter where the hero, and his band(?), confront the bad guy/being and defeat him/it, and it dies, flees or runs off, vowing vengeance at a later date.

  5. Subplots. Though the book could be about a lone hero on a quest or personal mission, the hero may have friends, family or someone he loves, to protect as well. A place to go to heal after a brutal fight, or just plan out his strategy for the next encounter with “it.”

  6. A little humor dropped in here and there reminds the reader that the hero, almost regardless of his background, may be facing death, but he’d prefer to enjoy thinking about other things, at least for a moment.

So, don’t be too specific about certain things and people will not copy them in real life.


I like to dabble in short stories for anthologies. Half the calls for submissions out there seem to be for erotica. If you were worried about moral dilemmas about writing erotica— yeah, I could sympathize with that. :wink: Half of me is like, “Hey, this is easy money and some fast publishing experience!” and the other half of me is, “Um, I know people [with open relationships] [with more partners than you can fit on a bus] [whatever], and it’s really kind of squicky.”

The same thing can hold true for fantasy, in its own way. Edwest has good points. Another thing I’d suggest is to find three or four authors in your genre whose work you admire. Break it down. How do they drum up excitement/drama/conflict without crossing a boundary you’re not willing to cross? If there’s a situation you’re not sure how to handle, try to visualize how they would approach it. Get a good outline worked out so that you have good flow/movement in your storyline, and you know how all your subplots are weaving in and out of things. You ought to be able to spot the trouble points in the outline phase, and find a way to work around things without having to ditch 20 pages’ worth of writing. :wink:

I can assure you there is no erotica :cool:

I had written a paranormal one, but was unsure if it would encourage others to try and look into it like it was cool. I assure you my story does not glorify it.

If all our “stories” would hold up to the light

Lk 8:18
The Parable of the Lamp.
16 No one who lights a lamp conceals it with a vessel or sets it under a bed; rather, he places it on a lampstand so that those who enter may see the light.
17 For there is nothing hidden that will not become visible, and nothing secret that will not be known and come to light.
18 Take care, then, how you hear. To anyone who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he seems to have will be taken away.”

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