Sitting on a Fence, Wearing Another Man’s Shoes

Are you a fence sitter?  Do you have trouble making up your mind?  Do you see both sides of an argument?  Do you change horses in midstream?  Can you debate any side of any issue in politics or religion?  If so, you just might be a writer.

But is that a virtue?  Is understanding the other side a liability or a blessing?  What happens if  you have to choose?  If you can’t bring yourself to do that you might be labeled as a fence-sitter, a wishy-washy blowhard who twists with the prevailing wind.  In other words, a politician.

So … What does this have to do with writing?  Well, everything if you’re going to use your creativity for nonfiction.  If you want to be a check-cashing fool of a writer, then your  memoirs, biographies, historical fiction, science, or religion require you … to … choose … a … side!

Think about it: Dan Brown wrote The Da Vinci Code on the premise that his research revealed that Jesus was married to Mary Magdelene.   Everybody knows the shock waves that Brown sent around the world as a result.   Volumes have been penned refuting or supporting his claim.   Movies and documentaries followed.  There are entire television series now using “Code” or “Da Vinci” in the damn title.

So what did Brown accomplish?  Well, for one thing, people started asking questions:  Was Jesus really married?  Did Mary of Magdala sail to southern France (nice scenary, fine wine) and spawn a divine line of royalty (demigods?) that live on today?   Was this all covered up by The Vatican?  Was the blood line protected by the Knights Templar?  Is the Holy Grail a uterus?  How do the Freemasons fit in?  Is the secret of life seared into the back of the U.S. one dollar bill?  Does it lead you to the inescapable conclusion that Marilyn Monroe was the gunman on the grassy knoll that dark day in Dallas?  Oh, wait … let’s back up.

Dan Brown’s research has been caustically criticized over the past few years, and rightfully so.  As a sometimes-historian myself, I found quite a few historical flaws in his fiction.  I also found quite a few flaws in his character development.  But you have to wonder just how much Dan Brown cares.  Because he is — as they say — laughing all the way to the bank.   He took a very controversial stand and spun a MEGA-bestseller out of it.

So … As a writer, if you’re going to delve into this potentially lucrative realm of controversy, then you’re going to have to make some hard choices.  And when you do make a choice, you’re going to have to stand behind it to gain any kind of credibility.  That means you better be damn sure of your subject matter.

My dad used to say that one of the virtues in life was learning to walk in another man’s shoes.  Personally, I think that he was right, which probably makes me one of those fence sitters.  So, when you do take that controversial stand on a subject — (Are you pro-life?  Do you believe in an unregulated free market?  Do you believe in biological evolution? ) — then brace yourself for a punch to the gut.   Your book may become a bestseller, and you may be laughing all the way to the bank, but when you get there, you may find yourself face-to-face with an unhinged whacko packing a 0.44.

These “hot button” issues are hot for a reason: They drill down to the very core of humanity.  Dan Brown picked a fight with mainstream  Christianity.  And there are times I wonder about what he was thinking.  If I were writing a book like that I’d be interviewing everyone from Greek Orthodox priests to Appalachian snake-handlers. The reason would’ve been simple: I would’ve wanted to walk in the other man’s shoes before I attacked religious beliefs.

Take it from me, you’ve got to have intestinal fortitude if you want to write nonfiction.  And courage like that is hard.  That’s especially true if you’re like me or Daffy Duck.  We’re both cowards, but we’re greedy … ah, you know the rest.

I’m not saying, “Don’t do it.”  In fact, just the opposite.  I am encouraging you to do so, with an open mind and a closed flak jacket.

As always,

Peace, from Keith

© 2012 Alan Keith Parker.  Contents of this blog are copyrighted .  Any reproduction, plagiarism, copy-and-pasting, hand-scribing or cave-wall-painting of this blog is forbidden by the laws of man and God.  In other words, don’t be an asshat.  This is mine!

2 thoughts on “Sitting on a Fence, Wearing Another Man’s Shoes

  1. Jeff

    I have not read your blog in weeks! Good thoughts and directions as usual ! Thanks. I forwarded your blog to my cousin, who is interested in writing !

  2. Thanks, Jeff! I really appreciate that.
    My hope is to start cranking out advice a little more often, perhaps with shorter entires. As you can tell, I jump around quite a bit. But that’s okay. To paraphrase George Carlin, “It’s my blog. I’ll do it my way.”

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