I've long believed that for a novel (or any kind of fiction) to have a certain weight or power behind it, there must be a message. I've been writing this why for many years, and it's lent my fiction direction and purpose.
However, I am now faced with a quandary: I've come across a message I really believe in, but if taken the wrong way by enough people, it could have horrible consequences. Chances are that nothing would ever happen, but there is always the slight possibility that it would be the push enough people need to send them into action.
I obviously don't want to use my actual message as an example, so I'll use one which seems popular today instead. There are a lot of dystopian movies these days, and while the focus on it varies, there's always some level of 'the people' striking down the 'evil government' which has 'enslaved' them.
Now if I'm an author who feels that government is something which needs to be kept in check before it becomes corrupt, and I choose to write a novel saying as much, there's a problem. Do I want something to change? Obviously. But that doesn't mean I want rioting in the streets and anarchy in the nation. More than likely, I just want a solution reached peaceably. Ideally, heads of government would realize 'where they're headed' and take measures to prevent it.
That might be what I want, but - always assuming that my novel influences a large percentage of the people - is that what's going to happen? Probably not. There probably will be rioting in the streets, if not worse.
So what can I do? I feel like people need to know this message, but I'm afraid that if taken the wrong way or in the wrong context, I might be the cause of some truly horrible actions. It isn't likely, but there's still a chance, no matter how small.
The obvious solution is to preach directly against those horrible actions. In theory this would work. But in practice, people are fully capable of latching onto something they believe in and ignoring all else.
So that's my question: what do you do when your message could be dangerous? Do you just give up writing it altogether? Or is there a way to ensure that it isn't taken the wrong way? (Obviously you can't 100% guarantee anything, but you can certainly come as close as possible.)
This question is NOT:
- Asking for opinions on whether or not the opening paragraph is true or false. I'd be happy to hear your thoughts in a comment, but please, do not open an answer with 'I think your underlying assumption is flawed...'
- Asking for you to show how UNLIKELY it is that enough people read my novel, identify with the message, and then act in a way I would never wish. I know it's incredibly unlikely. My concern is with the smallest of chances that such an event occurs.
- A disguised anti-government message. The whole dystopian example is theoretical, and this is a legitimate question and concern of mine.