Characters and Controversy

I don’t remember if it was an article I read or simply a comment on Facebook or Twitter, but someone made the point that just because a character is saying something does not mean that it reflects the views or opinions of the author.

I’ll admit, this is something I’ve worried about.  For example, one of the antagonists in the first book could very will be misinterpreted as some kind of social statement on my part.  I’m here to tell you, it’s not.  I write books to entertain, to tell a story, to create characters.  I am in no way trying to inflict any sort of world views or insult anyone.  I haven’t received any notes or indications that readers believe I am, but it’s something that’s been on my mind recently.

Last night, I was working on my #NaNoWriMo project and one of my characters used the word, “Bimbo.”  I’ve never really given the word very much thought before other than to think it’s kind of funny, which might be an insult to my gender, but whatever.  For the first time, I stopped and thought, “Well, maybe I shouldn’t use that word…”  Then I thought back to that article and reminded myself, “Hey.  You’re not the one using that word.  It’s your character.  You might not use that word, but she totally would.”

Being a writer is weird.  It’s like having a hundred different people inside your head at the same time.  You have to think like all of them in order to create a believable world and story.  The weirdest part, perhaps, is that you’re able to.  You can’t think about how you’d react in a situation.  You have to think about how your character would react.  It’s fun.  It gives you the opportunity to be someone else for a little while.  But it’s still weird.

12 thoughts on “Characters and Controversy

  1. I proofread/edited a novel a few months back which was written in blunt and often sarcastic first-person narration. The main character actually resembled the author in a lot of ways – the author had given him the same profession as himself, some similar mannerisms, and the way the author spoke in blog posts and on social media was almost exactly the same as this narrator spoke. In all, it was extremely hard to disconnect the author from the narrator. To make matters worse, the narrator, on more than one occasion, voiced extremely controversial opinions in a very much “I’m right, you’re wrong” way, with one of the matters concerning abortion. In that instance, it felt more that the author was trying to put across his own thoughts than a character having his own opinions. Although I should have not taken it so literally, the author had set it up so that I considered this main character to *be* the author, and everything the character said/did painted the author with the same negative image. I hated the narrator, and that really tainted my opinion of the author too.

    But I guess characters speaking in plain dialogue is different to when they have the whole narration of the novel to voice their opinions and thoughts… an author should definitely not be held responsible for something a character says, but I find the line’s more blurry when authorial voice is concerned. Hence why I prefer third person narration!

    • That’s an excellent point! In college, I wrote a first-person narrative and even though the character speaking was a lot more abrasive than I am, I did use her as an outlet for some of the frustration I was feeling at the time. Third person is a LOT easier! I am working on a first person narrative now, but the character is a lot younger and actually a lot sweeter than I am, so I’m hoping I’ll be okay! 😉

  2. Poetry has this problem too. I think because it’s largely regarded as a personal statement, some people tend to think what’s written reflects the immediate present. But even so, the characters and emotions we imagine are more thoroughly based on feelings that have lingered for some time.

  3. Oh gosh, I know, my BF constantly says, reading your work is like learning more about you. I laughed at him! Seriously, my characters just say whatever… I rarely agree with them… I thought, wow if he thinks he is reading ‘me’ then boy is he getting the wrong impression!

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