By Mark W. Danielson
At first glance you see a smiling man, but then his shirt identifies him as one of millions that celebrate the 9/11 World Trade Center attack as a victory against the infidels. Hold this image as I discuss the need to write responsibly.
Every day, images and stories of murder and destruction inspire fiction writers. While most novels end with heroes overcoming chaos, some unknowingly prompt copycat crimes. Adding to this, there is a troubling trend of stories and shows that capitalize on actual school shootings, murders, and abductions without regard for the victims, or any concern that such wide-spread exposure may romanticize such criminal acts. Recently, live TV preempted local programing for hours to cover the manhunt for a “home grown” terrorist. Apparently they failed to realize that their sensationalized filler made martyrs out of these bombers and may encourage more acts. With bombings now the norm in large and small screen plots, it was disturbing to find a Mystery Writers of America forensics article on bombings so authors could “get it right.” Are these writers aware that by incorporating such technical information in their novels, they may be inviting disaster? You may cry nonsense, but no one can predict a criminal’s mind. Anyone having doubts about how people can be affected by media input should watch Pain and Gain – a movie based on a true story of how words and images lured people into criminal activity and murder. Authors should not only be cognizant of any potential negative effects of their work, they should also accept responsibility if a criminal acts from their prose.
Don’t get me wrong. I love reading and writing suspense. In fact, several years ago I was well into a terrorist book, but then realized if it was published, the information I provided could lead to serious security breaches. At that point I deleted the story and moved on. Unfortunately, there are far too many published cook books for terror. Remember that our media and Google Earth were Bin Laden’s best intelligence sources.
Our freedom of expression allows us to write and publish whatever we choose. As a result, the Internet is packed with dangerous recipes bearing Constitutional protection. So, at what point do authors realize they went too far? The day after a disaster, or before their work is published? In the United States, that choice is yours. In other countries, they make that decision for you.
While every good mystery should involve danger and risk, none should generate real harm to individuals. Take another look at the man’s grin and then share your thoughts.