To Hack Or Not To Hack?

Hello out there. Miriam here, writing to you from Edinburgh where it is, to my great surprise, very sunny. Okay, so it’s night time now, but it was sunny all day. Most strange.

I’m convinced that the only way to solve mysteries is to hack websites and find out about evil villains’ shady pasts by uncovering some great dirty secret. For the last few years, I’ve been telling myself that I can’t be a detective unless I learn to (a) deduce things in an instant like Sherlock Holmes or (b) hack government websites.

And so it was understandable that I thought St Mall’s resident computer whizz, nicknamed Don Pedro for reasons unknown/forgotten to me, would be able to help out our team of intrepid detectives by hacking into websites for them so that they can get the information they need.

Imagine my surprise when I sent a few chapters – drafts, just ideas, nothing definite – to Charley and she came back with this (edited slightly to remove spoilers):

I’m a little wary of the illegal hacking business, though. Perhaps we could get into the system in a more roundabout way, or at least have some explanation for how DP could get at it. We don’t want to be insinuating that breaking into websites is a good idea, after all 😛

Seemed like a good idea to me. I’ve only ever hacked into one website and that was to retrieve some pictures from it, but that was hardly difficult and wasn’t at all illegal. I was just accessing an earlier version, that was all. Seriously, it was totally legit.

But then I started thinking: whatever we write here, people are going to associate with us. I mean, I’ve considered that idea in the past, when trying to decide if something was good enough for other people to read, and have always concluded that I wanted the first manuscript they associated with me to be a good one, rather than a bad one. But this was more of a moral one.

I’ve not kept it a secret that I’m a Christian, but I don’t tend to shout it from the rooftops of the internet as it tends to lead to haters sending you rude messages and to be honest, I got bullied enough at primary school for my faith. I thought I left that behind when I grew up a bit. It’s something that has subtly influenced my writing.

For example, am I going to allow my characters to say “Oh my god”, when it’s something I never say myself? Should they swear, when I don’t if my parents are in the room? (Obviously, no one is swearing in St Mallory’s. They’re far too well-bred for that.)

And then there are a few more important things. Antagonists, I guess, are allowed to do whatever they want because it’s being portrayed as a bad thing. But should the heroes of the story resort to illegal means to solve the problems they’re having, or could that be seen as promoting breaking the law to young, impressionable readers?

I haven’t yet come to a conclusion about this, so any comments on the subject would be welcome. My main reasons for not insisting that characters keep within the law is that, for starters, sometimes the law is wrong, and no one changed the world by keeping to unjust laws; at other times, it may be that something is right in that circumstance. One must consider relative morality as well as absolute morality.

But with this particular quibble of Charley’s in mind, I’m rewriting that scene to be a little less morally ambiguous.

And also, I guess, more realistic. After all, our detectives are very clever, but they’re only teenage girls. And if I haven’t worked out how to hack into my own computer (I’m trying to persuade Voice Recognition to answer to ‘JARVIS’ instead of just ‘Start Listening’, but can’t find the code for that), they’re not going to be busting through firewalls left, right and centre.

Should our characters reflect our moral values, or do you not associate how a character behaves with how you imagine the author to behave? Comments would be much appreciated 🙂

— M

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8 thoughts on “To Hack Or Not To Hack?

  1. That Ms. Charley is such a goody-two-shoes!

    But she does have a point that the Don would not stoop to such measures. But that’s not to say a less scrupulous character wouldn’t.

    In Sugar & Spice we have a teen hacker who breaks the law for the greater good, but all the feedback about him is that he’s one of the favourite characters of our readers.

    In Don Pedro’s case hacking in would be a moral dilemma and not undertaken lightly, but not necessarily something she would rule out completely.

    • Fair point, fair point. Personally I am not above my characters breaking the law, but then again my own characters behave very differently from the characters of St Mall’s! 😀
      Though we still have computer skills coming into play, the new version is entirely legal. Sad times.

      • Charley R says:

        I would just like to point out that I’m not THAT goodie . . . I just don’t want us to get into trouble too much. My characters break laws all the time, but they usually aren’t teenage girls, and often have life-or-death motives.

        Sorry for killing the thunder, though. I feel bad now 😛

  2. Hacking is always an interesting subject (I so though I’d replied before *sigh*). White Hackers, Black Hackers, 2600 Club.

    To me it seems the intent behind the hacking is what determines how it’s perceived. But Chalery does have a good point – how dire is the situation? If it’s life or death the decsion to use hacking could be a good one, but to do it when the stakes aren’t that high, might not be.

    While I couldn’t hack a system for the life of me, my hubby could – thankfully he’s in computer security, so he’s legit.

    And as to judging you by what your charracters do? Well then shouldn’t many authors be arrested, especially the crime thriller writers?

    Naw, characters are characters, and while people look at us crazy if we talk about them in public, once they become written down, it’s all okay and doens’t reflect (too, too, much) on the author.

    :} Cathryn

  3. Miss Alexandrina says:

    It’s not particularly viable that a teen might hack into someone’s computer (although, I don’t personally know; this teen might be specifically skilled in that area!). I once had a normal teen who picked the lock of the school’s front door in the middle of the night, and readers’ reactions were ‘that’s unlikely’.
    Though I don’t really like to include languages, it’s not because of my readers, but more because I am uncomfortable writing such words in myself. Conversely, I’m Catholic, but I am okay with writing ‘oh my god’ when a character would say it. I wouldn’t just put it in if I felt like it, though.
    What’s the alternative to hacking? It’s rather immoral, indeed, but I don’t feel that that point should stop a protagonist doing so, unless they themselves have strong feelings about the act. Go with what the character thinks 😉
    I agree with Cathryn, characters are characters; what they say and do might incite the connection to us by our readership, but that doesn’t mean that they will believe that we act in such ways. After all, this is just literature. (I feel that ‘just’ is rather out of place!)
    Alex 🙂

    • Thanks for the thoughtful answer!
      Some teens are pretty brilliant with computers. I’ve known people who can sit there and reprogram them in their lunch breaks and I’m just like … what? Personally I love computers, but I can’t program to save my life.
      The alternative is to find a boring but feasible way of matching up names, faces and criminal records. Yay.
      I think with swearing and ‘oh my god’ and stuff I’m conscious that I often ask my parents to read my work through (well, my dad anyway). I’m trying to learn not to write with that in mind, because it’s unhelpful to my work, but it’s something that bothers me.

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