Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Moral Dilemma

So the other week I was in the presence of a few older people who were discussing everyone they knew as only older people can, since they actually have time to notice and think about who is traveling where and who switched from this church to that one, and why, and what everyone said about it, and what has happened since then.

The conversation intrigued me so much I later wrote down all I could remember and related it to Emily over the phone. She hooted and laughed and said, "Oh Mom, you have to write that Mennonite novel!"

So since she has worked on way more novels than I have, I said with a sigh that I have all these dibs and dabs of notes and ideas but I can't seem to make a story, and what should I do?

"Pictures," she said. "I think you need pictures." It turned out she had gotten started on her retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses by taping storybook pictures of princesses around the room, purely for decoration, but then they took on personalities and soon a story started flowing.

"I think if you can picture a character, then a story might start coming out of that," she said.

"But," I said, "it can't be anyone I know. I have to be able to imagine."

I had an idea. I had been on a Facebook friend's page and clicked through one of her picture albums of a family event, and was intrigued by one photo of a Mennonite woman. I have no idea who she is, and I don't know why it stood out to me, but it came to mind when I was talking to Emily. What if I printed off that picture and used it as a starting point?

"Yes!" Emily said. "And I'm giving you an assignment. By next week, print off the picture and figure out who this woman is in love with. And every week I'll try to give you another prompt."

Well, I knew right off who she's in love with: her husband. But he's quiet and grim and she doesn't think he loves her any more. I went back to the album and wouldn't you know it, the picture is gone. Did someone sense my intentions?? Which leads me to my moral dilemma--is it ethical to pull pictures of strangers off the internet and use them as starting points for a story? Or is that too much like a pedophile browsing for pictures of your daughter?

I need to know.

Quote of the Day:
"Never kick a tire filled with concrete."
--Jenny, who skinned her toes on the tetherball base at Grandma's


  1. I think it's ethical. As long as you're not reposting them somewhere as photos, you're just using it as a springboard for imagination. Your daughter is very wise!

  2. I agree with Robin.

  3. I agree with Robin.

  4. Wait, and then one day in the future while you're writing about the woman in your picture, you meet her. :) That's not so unlikely, you know. Are you going to confess?

  5. So can I print off your pictures and make up some stories about you and your family? Would you want someone to do it to you? Remember to practice the Golden Rule, don't do it to someone else if you wouldn't want it done to you!!

  6. Interesting point, and I don't think I'd mind if someone did this if their motives were like mine. So that gives some clarity, doesn't it. And no, Arla, I don't think I'd ever tell them!

  7. Hmm... There are several things that come to mind. When something is aired on the radio, it is put there for public use and listening. People may record it and that is legal, but they are not allowed to manipulate it and then air it again in the public space without permission. Same with Newspaper clippings, you are allowed to take them and use them, but you may not republish them without approval.

    What most young people, (and some older ones too) forget that when you post something online, you have put it out there in the public space and thus, it is the same as publishing it in the newspaper. We may try to fool ourselves that because there are "privacy" settings, that it is still our data, but in reality, you have posted it out there for the world to see and if you are uncomfortable with that, you may want to reconsider what you display online.

    But there is also the spiritual side that Plainlady said, Would you want someone to do it to you and your family? That is the real question for us as Christians. When you bring the moral side into it, a lot depends on the intended use. The lady in question may never read a novel because she considers them to be "garbage", or she may be totally ok with it. You may not know.

    And I do agree that you probably shouldn't tell the person, unless there is a possibility that it could be traced back to her. Otherwise, everything in your story is a product of your imagination, not their picture. I would encourage you to look on Google images for a picture of someone you do not know, that way you will not be hampered by always trying to make sure that you don't accidentally put something in the story that really happened to the pictured subject.

  8. But folks, Dorcas isn't posting that lady's picture anywhere. She's only thinking about looking at it to jiggle her imagination. Ethical as you please, in my book. Sort of like sitting in the airport and thinking, I bet that lady is a fantastic cook. Probably specializes in Italian cuisine. She's got 3 kids and they dream of going to Italy to see if the real McCoy holds a candle to Mom's cooking......... -PC in VA

  9. I'm with plainlady. If you are ok with this sort of thing being done to your & yours, go for it. Otherwise reconsider. Pictures can be great triggers & there is no actual harm in what you wish to do.

  10. :) That sure created some controversy, Dorcas. I enjoyed your idea, really. It's been making me smile. I just couldn't resist commenting earlier. Ask Emily what she thinks would make a good springboard for a story about a woman from the 18th century.

  11. Welll... you could always ask her if she minds, couldn't you? I mean if she was an acquaintance of a friend then wouldn't you be able to manage some kind of contact? If not then I agree with Plainlady... and for what it's worth I wouldn't mind in the least if someone did this with my picture, so does that mean it's ok for me to do? ;-)

    And I have to say I am so jealous of you with someone to give you writing prompts and talk over book ideas!☺

  12. I say go for it! I would be rather honored if you used my photo to write a story about. (I guess I'm assuming the story wouldn't make her look like the wicked Witch of the West :) If something does happen in the story that is true to life, no one would know, probably not even you, because we don't see the photo. Write the novel - I want to read it!

  13. I too would feel honored if someone would use my picture for a spring board for a good story especially if it's because I thought I looked interesting enough to have an interesting story ;-)what's the big deal anyway it's not like she's going to post her picture on the front cover of a book. I think we'd be dishonest if we said we didn't use the real characters in our lives all the time in stories we write. Not sure how this differs.

  14. perfectly ethical! ...I can´t wait to read it! ;)
    (i'd offer you my picture but I am certain I am not nearly intersting enough) LOL
    ...now if you want old pictures I have some fabulous pictures of ancestors who have been long dead and would never know the difference. I ocasionaly spend long periods of time staring at them and trying to imagine what they were like, what they were thinking and why in the world they dressed like that! ; )