Thursday, October 4, 2007

When Your Writing Goes Amok

Now I'm no expert on this because I've never killed anyone, but it seems to me that if someone commits a murder, he will do everything in his power to keep his crime a secret and to keep himself from getting caught.

Not so for this Polish author.

Now keep all those Polish jokes to yourself. Anyone could have honestly made this mistake--confessing to a murder he committed in a novel he wrote. Right?


The novelist, Krystian Bala, wrote in his 2003 novel about a man being found drowned with his hands tied behind his back and attached to a noose tied around his neck. Interestingly enough, three years prior, this is exactly how Dariusz Janiszewski's murdered body was found.

After an investigation, Bala was tried and sentenced to twenty-five years in prison for initiating and planning the murder.

Jokes aside (go ahead and make them, I can hear you laughing), this raises the interesting question about basing fiction on real life. Although there is some safety in writing fiction ("Hey, I made it up!"), it's not failproof. There's still the danger that someone will look at your fiction and recognize a person or situation. Many fiction writers find themselves basing their characters or the situations they're in at least on some portion of real life--be it an idiosyncrasy of their mother's, their best friend's house, their brother's weird dental problems. It's natural for fiction writers to draw inspiration from the world around them, especially those parts of it they are most intimately connected to. But fiction writers must realize that with the great power of the fictional pen comes great responsibility--especially if they have appropriated something that belongs to someone else (personality trait or characteristic or whatever) to use in their own creation.

It just goes to show: put your secrets in a diary and keep the diary under your mattress instead of in a novel meant for public consumption.

Of course, this entry doesn't address what happens in nonfiction (especially the creative forms of it), which is something we're talking about in my ethics class currently, as we're talking about New Journalism and the subject-writer relationship. That's a whole other can of worms that I have a lot to say about but this isn't quite the time or place just yet. But soon.

Also, I was recently asked in a comment a question about copyright infringement when a book is out of print and what a person's rights are in that situation. I will attempt to address this soon, in a future entry. It was an excellent question, so thank you!

No comments: