I have pretty much always written fiction. Oh, in my journals or blogs, I delve into the realities that I live with on a day-to-day basis, but, when one lays out the ugliness in their personal life in a story intended for public viewing, I think that person should be cognizant of the realities of what they reveal. If a writer tells the story of how they entered a store found the clerk asleep and proceeded to quietly empty the cash register, help themselves to a few cases of beer and cartons of cigarettes. They should not be surprised when the folks wearing badges show up on their doorstep to have an up close and personal discussion that might end with metal bracelets, lawyers, judges, and small rooms with iron bars.
I’m not saying opening one’s soul is not a good idea, it can be! The act alone can be so damned releasing that it is worth the chance to write the stuff out. What I am saying is don’t publish all that for the public to see. Such revelations are, believe it or not, admissible in a court of law. Now, of course, if we are talking about jaywalking, or illegal parking, or maybe some trespassing on private property, it is unlikely to bring a problem floating down from the blue. Yet, there are some things that are so heinous in the eyes of the public that you are almost guaranteed to elicit a response. Hopefully, the response will be from the authorities, but it might be just as well come from some fringe group. Take the case of Salman Rushdie, a writer who had to go into hiding because of death threats over what he wrote in his fourth book The Satanic Verses. Okay, that might be an extreme – but it is no less valid.
People have lost jobs, friends, and close relationships based on what they revealed on social media. It has become common practice for potential employers to peruse an applicant’s social pages prior to an offer of employment. Who can blame them? They get an up-close glimpse into the personal life of the person and learn what is important to them. They get an inkling of whether the person is a good fit for their organization. But even people who are no longer in the workforce should realize that they can open the gates to lots of backlash with revelations about cruelty to animals, to children, to the disabled, or just about any other group that might be unable to protect themselves.
I once wrote a short story where a con man/ thief broke into a house, robbed it and in the process killed the dog that was there. For the people who read it, the story was great. However, there would be this comment: “But why did you kill the dog?” Three years later, a woman who was part of that writers group I had shared the story with came up to me in the grocery store and chided me again about killing the dog in that story so long ago. (Okay, so she found the story was memorable — but really she is still upset about a fictional dog?) She was a retired kindergarten teacher, not a PETA member. But, this incident made me wonder had I published it, how many irate members of that fringe group would have been pounding me because of an entirely fictional depiction of what is all too real an occurrence? In truth, that would not stop me from publishing the story, but remember this is a fictional depiction and there was nothing about how the dog died only that it was found dead.
I did stupid things in my youth that I would never put out in a public forum. I think most of us can come up with a time or two when our youthful exuberance got the better of us and led us down some path we should have known better than to tread. Granted some are funny and deserve to be shared; like my trying to be Tarzan and swinging from a rope off a limb about fifteen feet above the ground. What do kids know of Hollywood and stuntmen and such? I learned, the hard way, that the law of gravity is much stronger than scrawny eight-year-old arm muscles. I only got some scrapes and a broken foot out of that. I can giggle at my childhood ignorance now, decades later.
I suppose the point of all this, my purpose is to say: yes, be brave. Put yourself out there. Be aware that some things you may reveal will have consequences attached – some may be quite unexpected. Be sure you are ready to accept those before you publish; afterward will be too late to reconsider.