Integrity and Subject Matter



 noun: in·teg·ri·ty



  1. the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.


  1. the state of being whole and undivided.

Thanks again, Google definitions.


Be sure to check out my previous post on Integrity and Writing (go on, I’ll wait for you back here.)

Back already? Fine, check it out later.

So, I’m talking about Integrity and Subject Mater, or writing about bad things in a good way.

This is a strange one, given the nature of the stuff I write about. I’m hanging on the dark side of things, where bad things happen and people get hurt, and sometimes, they die.

And, yeah, my work is filled with blood, entrails (both human and other), and a heck of a lot of violence.

But I still like a good love story, and often they all combine together in weird and wonderful ways.

A story always has a certain truth to it, an internal logic and inner integrity unto itself. Part of the challenge of being a writer is navigating that truth, the reality of the story itself, and presenting something that both the writer and the reader can connect to.

Is the story too obscure, too dense and impenetrable? You gotta let us in, loosen the binds of its internal logic a little and let us know what’s really going on. Show us or tell us, whatever, just let us in.

Is the story too transparent? You spill the beans too early? Pacing and some structural support can help with that. But you gotta find and follow the intrinsic logic of your unique story.

Different stories deserve to be told in different ways, and dark stories can be pretty tricky.

I recall an interview with Stephen King, where he said people were protesting his treatment of a (fictional) dog. The dog was pepper sprayed and kicked to death in his opening chapter. He wanted to show how bad his character was, and folks held him accountable for harming an imaginary dog.

Honestly, I get both sides of it.

I do not support abuse of women, children or animals in real life, so don’t give it to me in a fictional form. I do write stories where bad (or potentially deadly) things happen to women, children and animals because, for me, that’s a way of getting to the truth of a situation.

And yeah, in my stories animals may be eaten or dismembered, children may be abducted or die, and people kill each other.

Violence in my stories is never gratuitous; it’s never a celebration of harming another person (or animal). But still bad stuff happens, because, hey, that’s life.

And that’s a fine line to walk.

I think of the edgier aspects of society, where informed consent is key. Does the participant agree to do these things (or have them done to them)? Yes, well then it’s all good.

No, OK, well then, it’s abuse.

In some corners of the web, gratuitous violence is glorified; and sexism and violence against women, children and animals reigns supreme.

And I don’t want any part of it.

That’s where integrity comes back in. My own sense of integrity (my moral compass, if you will) just doesn’t get stuff like that. As a writer, I dance on the fine line between showing and telling, and light and dark, and a thread of morality runs through it. Tip to one side, and I have spatterporn. Tip to the other, and I have another kind of story, more fluff and less dark.

I think the balance is found in dancing on that line.

‘Course, it’s easy enough to write a lousy story filled with tits and guns, pistol whipping and blood – and you know what? It holds the reader’s attention. Think of the double-Ds prominently displayed in most lowbrow fiction.

Ooh, baby – that sure grabs at ya, don’t it?

But, I like life on the edge of the knife, that shining blade that cuts so deeply you don’t even feel the sting until afterward. Dark and light twist together into something else entirely.

The kind of story that makes you afraid to turn out the lights, or makes you wonder what your neighbour’s really up to.

The kind of story that plays with your head, tells the truth and stretches it, and stays with you long after you’re done reading.

It’s a story that holds to its own version of the truth, its own logic. It is, unapologetically, what it is.

And integrity is all part of that.

~ Liz

In case you missed it the first time ‘round, check out my previous post on Integrity and Writing.