A Writing Standard?

Ben Wilson asks whether writing should meet a standard.

Category: writing

label_outline tag Dovetag Hays Codetag Standard

What does your writing stand for? I rather like the phrase “[i]f you stand for nothing, you will fall for anything.” This unattributed quote suggests either that an individual is gullible, or that they have wavering beliefs. I, for one, would like my writing to stand for something, not anything.


Regarding that quote, I personally like the attribution to the late Rosa Parks, “Stand for something or you will fall for anything. Today’s mighty oak is yesterday’s nut that held its ground.” More because I think I’m a bit nutty now. Maybe I’ll be an oak later?

With my first novel, Scintilla complete, a shadow of my views are out there. A young man feels he is entitled to governance only to find himself resisting an alien interest in his home world. As the writer, I fret over whether the message conveyed honors the reader.

What do I mean by honoring the reader? To be honest, this was something I wanted to do without really knowing what it meant. Over the past few months I’ve struggled with the meaning. Over the past week, I seem to be arriving at a meaning. To do this, I borrow from an outdated Hays Code and the Dove Foundation’s content rating.

The goal of the Hays Code was to ensure that cinema had a net-neutral impact on the viewer’s morals. It recognized the power of cinema and so sought to curtail the glorification of immoral and criminal behavior. The code was repudiated in 1968. However, it at least stood for something. Without applying its specifics, from it I surmise that moral, lawful behavior should be rewarded and immoral, criminal behavior has consequences. Hays also included a respect for others’ faith.

The Dove rating system has a five-scale on six categories: Sex, Language, Violence, Drug (alcohol) Use, Nudity and Other. For speculative fiction authors, Other is a key category. It applies to “Lead characters that exhibit disrespect for authority, lying, cheating, stealing, illegal activity, witchcraft or sorcery.” (I’m a fan of five-scales.) The Dove system mirrors the over-arching goal of Hays, without the nine-pages of rules. Dove adds in a caveat for Christian themes, which might allow an otherwise flawed film (e.g. Passion of the Christ) some support.

How does Scintilla rate under Dove? “204005” There’s only one sex act, improper and with consequence (2). I avoided language throughout (0). Violence is pretty heavy, with homicide (4). There is no drug/alcohol/tobacco use (0) or nudity (0). There is a fair amount of “Other” (5). I don’t think Scintilla earns the faith-friendly caveat.

What does this mean? Do I scrap Scintilla and start over? How do I write to honor my faith?

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Photo Credit: Yellow paper with handwriting (Manoj Kengudelu/Flickr CC BY 2.0.)