Janis Patterson is a seventh-generation Texan and a third-generation wordsmith who writes mysteries as Janis Patterson, romances and other things as Janis Susan May, children’s books as Janis Susan Patterson and scholarly works as J.S.M. Patterson.
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Responsibility - Yours, Mine or Whose?
by Janis Patterson
Right now I’m still reeling from the ghastly
bombing on Monday. It’s one thing when we, safely seated at our computers,
create horrors and crimes and deal in dark deeds as if they were bits of candy.
It’s another one completely when the horrors are real, when the streets are
full of blood and living, breathing people are hurt or killed.
I think people are drawn to crime fiction out of a love of justice and right. (You notice I didn’t say the law – the omission was deliberate.) Between the covers of a book all kinds of nasty things can happen, but even as we are horrified at the turns of event we can rest secure that the bad guy will be caught and pay the penalty for his crimes, that justice will triumph and all will be well. Would that things were so easily predictable in real life!
In real life things aren’t so clean. We can create the most logical motives and put out masterly clues that our sleuths can solve with assurance. We give our villains identifiable motives that are rational – at least in the book – and the skills to implement them. Real life… Where does crime start in real life? Name just about anything and it gets blamed – bad parenting, peer pressure, finances, politics, religion or lack of same, TV, video games, movies, books… just pick one or more.
I don’t know if I agree with such reasoning or not. Take two people with similar backgrounds – one will commit a heinous crime, the other turn into just an ordinary joe whose main criminal act is the occasional speeding ticket. What makes the difference?
Whatever it is, though, we who create those thrilling tales of murder and mayhem must walk a slender blade of responsibility. We must create interesting and on the whole realistic stories, but we must be very careful not to make our stories into an instruction manual for the criminal. Yes, we need verisimilitude, but we also need common sense. Let our villain build a bomb, but don’t give the reader step by step instruction. Same with poison or gun, knotted handkerchief or whatever, we need to be like the police and always hold back one crucial bit of information – one little piece that makes the thing whole and workable.
But, you say, there’s so much information out there – they can find out almost anything on the internet.
That’s true – and people who are so inclined will, but we will be in the clear. Self-responsibility and self-determination are two of the cornerstones of liberty. If a person is determined to commit a crime, they will and they must take the responsibility. No video game or book or film forced them to do it – no one jack-marched them down the street to find the ingredients. They did it themselves. We just have to be very careful that we don’t aid and abet them with detailed instructions. We can’t control their actions – we can only control our own, and we should act responsibly.