Why Writers Must Be Honest

Why Authors Must Be Honest

Why Writers Must Be HonestAs a writer, you will often need to address issues that make you uncomfortable.

Whether it’s violence, questions of morality, or thematic elements, the nature of conflict inherent to fiction means you will often forced to write about hard subjects. Sometimes, it can be tempting to write your way around these issues, to whitewash or soft-soap the ugly facts, in order to spare both yourself and your readers.

This, however, is a fast track to weak and forgettable fiction.

How to Write Honest Fiction

Rikers High Paul VolponiWith the undeniably tough subject of juvenile detention, and all it entails, at the center of his young adult novel Rikers High, Paul Volponi gives us an unflinching example of how to use honesty and verisimilitude to stare down the unsavory details of life and use them to produce a powerful and unforgettable piece of fiction.

Every page of Rikers High resonates with the truth. As a man who spent several years teaching high school at Rikers Island, New York’s main jail complex, Volponi knows his subject matter firsthand, and he’s not afraid to lay it all out for the world to see.

One Author’s Challenge to the Rest of Us

Had Volponi chosen to do otherwise—had he decided he didn’t want to write about all the horrific happenings inside a youth prison, or had he decided he didn’t want to face the possibly negative responses of a reading public that wasn’t ready for the hard, cold truth—he would have gutted his story’s impact and resilience.

If fiction is to have any significance beyond mere entertainment value, it must be willing to face the truth and share the truth, no matter how ugly, how beautiful, how painful, or how liberating.

Here’s a challenge for today: Look through your latest story and see if you can find any areas that make you uncomfortable. Face them bravely and lay the truth out for all the world to see. Your readers will remember.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! Is there a part of your story that it’s been hard to write about from a place of vulnerability and honesty? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. Well said.

    I think you referenced this book before. It is now on my To Read list.

  2. Rikers High is a new release, and I only read it recently, but I definitely recommend it if you’re willing to stomach the thematic content.

  3. Great point. Funnily enough, I think I’ve heard about Riker’s High as well…
    Interestingly, readers sometimes get very angry with authors for being too truthful or saying things that are provocative, questioning and unpalatable. I guess there are some who don’t want unflinching honesty. Still, as long as there are those who do, that’s okay.

  4. Ultimately, writers are responsible for what they write, and readers are responsible for what they read. Bottom line. If a reader doesn’t like what an author is presenting, no one says he has to read it.

  5. Hm, I agree with this statement, “Bottom line. If a reader doesn’t like what an author is presenting, no one says he has to read it” However, I am ultimately responsible, not to myself for what I write. But to God. And so in writing, I must be first looking to Him for what constitutes, “Honesty” And what constitutes sticking your heard in the sewer, not just smelling.

  6. Definitely agree. Just because something is true doesn’t necessarily mean authors are responsible for showing it. And even when we do tackle hard subjects, we certainly have a lot of artistic license in *how* we present the truth (e.g. graphic language and sexual situations don’t have to be explicit or pervasive to get the point across). But if we’re going to tackle hard subjects, we can’t whitewash them and hold our heads up afterward. If Volponi had decided to write a book about a kid in prison, but then decided he wanted to sidestep the nasty reality of prison, he would have been copping out on both himself and his readers.

  7. I was just thinking about this topic this morning – how to portray the harsh realities of life properly. I had just finished reading some parts of the Old Testament where people did some very horrible things, and I was pondering the thought that God is incredibly honest about the ugliness of sin.

    My own inclination is to skirt around “dirty” topics, but I’ve begun to realize that my readers already know such things exist. I’m not sparing them anything. I need to create a realistic world inside my book – to do otherwise is a disservice to my readers. It also makes me come across as cowardly, or just plain in denial about life. Why should my readers then trust me?

    All that being said, I also need to take a lesson from God in how to talk about reality when that reality is dirty. He doesn’t go into explicit detail, and I don’t have to, either. You don’t have to be standing in the sewer to point out how badly it stinks.

    Balance. The hard thing in life…and the thing that marks really great writers.

    Who would have guessed that I’d get a writing lesson from the book of Judges? 🙂

  8. Judges seems to speak to lots of writers! Balance, balance, balance – can’t say it enough. It’s really the only constant in writing.

  9. A really tough realm to think on about. But I guess, that is the actual reason of fiction. Everyone shares there own story, just change the settings.
    But, sometimes thinking it that way can really be restricting. Since, whenever I think about how I will be judged by writing this, I get intimidated to burn it before anyone else read it.
    But, my muse make a face like Elsie and say “can’t you see, I can’t” 🙁
    Than I just keep writing while planning to never ever publish it. But it is just another trickery of myself, since I will publish it all >:>

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