The characters I write may be fictional, but they’re also human.
In Truth or Beard, the character of Duane thinks the following about his ex-girlfriend: “What Tina had in looks she lacked in sense. She was shrewd but ignorant. I couldn’t talk to her about anything, because she didn’t know about anything other than townie gossip, biker gossip, how to work a pole, and how to spread her legs. Hell, I’d been ready to shoot that horse four years ago. But she’d become a bad habit. She was easy and soft and persistent. And that had been enough to keep me from turning her away.”
Let’s discuss the difference between reality and ideal.
If Duane were an ideal character, perhaps he would have thought something like the following: “In my opinion, and based on no measurements or standardized and validated assessments, Tina was not very intelligent. When we spent time together, I noticed that she discussed other people and delighted in their hardships a great deal, which disappointed me as I did not find that kind of conversation stimulating or enjoyable. Her areas of expertise included: stripping. However, she seemed to enjoy physical intimacy with me. As I also enjoyed physical intimacy with her, we engaged in physical intimacy often. I felt badly about potentially using her for this purpose, and was therefore honest about my expectations for our relationship. Tina understood that the nature of our relationship was only physical and– being a woman of her own mind and a woman who enjoyed sexual acts– took no issue with the limited nature of our interactions.”
My books contain characters who speak/think about issues and other people (in their fictional universe) in a realistic way (not an ideal way) because my characters behave in realistic ways (not ideal ways). It is not my job to write books about perfect people, who never judge other people, and who never make mistakes or say ignorant things.
Therefore, if you hate one of my characters because of 1-thing he/she/they did or said, go for it. But that also means you’re a person who hates other (real) people because of 1-thing she/he/they did or said. Yep. You’re that person. You judge other people and form your like/dislike for that person based on 1-issue. Whatever floats your boat.
As a reader, I hate books about perfect people. I hate books where all the characters are enlightened and every word out of their mouth and every thought in their brain is vetted first to ensure it is appropriate/ideal. That’s not just fiction, that’s fantasy. I can’t connect with those characters because they have no flaws. I find those characters to be boring and flat. Just like I find real people with no perceivable flaws to be boring and flat.
I am never going to be one of those authors who write books where everyone is perfect, where each character is enlightened. Characters in my books are going to say cringe-worthy things and behave in cringe-worthy ways. They’re going to be wrong, they’re going to make bad decisions, they’re going to think and do and say the wrong thing. Often.
A few words about fiction:
- Just because an author writes a character who holds certain beliefs, does not mean the author also holds those beliefs. Oftentimes, the author holds the opposite beliefs.
- Just because a character is a main character, central character, protagonist, or romantic lead/interest, does not mean the author condones every thought and/or word out of the character’s mouth. That’s not how writing (fiction) works.
My job as a writer of FICTION, as I see it, is to:
- Write books about people who could be real. Real people (the people I know) make mistakes. They have flaws. They do and say things that are inappropriate, judgmental, and human.
- Ensure my characters behave in a way that is consistent with their upbringing and the environment around them. Ensure they behave in a believable way.
- To tell a compelling story/to entertain.
- Publish a quality product (well edited, appealing cover design, etc.)
And that’s it. That’s the entirety of my job.
That said, the “moral of the story” or “the point of the book” (for my books) is never going to be about perpetuating harmful ideas (e.g. applying a social stigma to people, especially women and girls, who are perceived to violate traditional expectations for sexual behaviors; normalizing hate-speech; normalizing violence, etc.)
Note, this isn’t part of my job as a writer. This is part of my job as a human-being. That’s just me being a decent person.
But back to Duane and what he says about Tina.
Duane is defined by what he says, what he thinks, and how he behaves. I believe I wrote him as a consistently judgmental, stubborn, and surly character. The journey he goes on (as a character) is to learn how to stop being stubborn and judgmental. He *changed* over the course of his book. He became better. What he says about Tina, what he thinks about Tina, and how he behaves towards Tina over the course of the book are all consistent, realistic, and believable for his character.
Therefore, I’ve done my job as a writer.
Now it’s up to you as the reader to decide whether or not you like/dislike Duane. That’s your job.
On a related note, the irony of this issue is that I have plans for Tina. I have plans to write a book from her perspective. Just like, if you’ve read the Knitting in the City series, I have plans to show how destructive the term “slamp” is in the last book of that series (Kat’s book, Marriage of Inconvenience). As well, in Neanderthal marries Human, I had one of Quinn’s “slamps” make an appearance in that book and she was not who (slut-shaming) society would like her to be.
I’m always going to take my readers on a journey, one that I define and dictate, one that I feel is true and important. My books are written by me, not by a committee. Yes, I ask BETA readers to weigh in or provide content expertise from time to time, but *I* am ultimately responsible for the content within my books.
Some readers may not have the patience for the journey. Some readers may not want to read about characters who make mistakes, say and do dumb things (even destructive things) and that’s okay. No worries.
But I’m not going to change the way I write my books or my characters. And I’m not going to apologize for how I write them as long as they are consistent and believable.
Does misogyny exist? Yes.
Does slut shaming exist? Yes.
Does toxic masculinity exist? Yes.
So does narrowmindedness (and it goes both ways).
If you see the word “slamp” and that’s your only takeaway from a story, then—in my opinion—your mind is very focused (i.e. narrow) on one thing. You’re reading the headline but you’re not taking the time to read the story. And, in my opinion, reading just the headline and forming opinions based on limited information is… well, that’s a different discussion for a different day.
Would it be believable for the Winston Brothers—whose father was a con artist, criminal, abuser, etc. ect.—to be 100% enlightened all the time and always say and do the 100% right thing?
No, it wouldn’t be believable.
They are fictional characters, not fantasy. And if I’m doing my job right, they are also human.
P.S. If you’re going to screenshot a section of this blog post or quote excerpts of it (especially for the purpose of “getting your rage on”), please link back to the entire blog post (so everyone can read the post in its entirety) rather than being someone who encourages others to make decisions/react based on limited information.
P.S.S. And if you’re going to react to the blog post, rant and rave about it, without reading the whole thing, then shame on you. You are what is wrong with society.
P.S.S.S. And if you’ve read this blog post because you’re looking for something to get angry about and can’t wait to post about how angry this makes you all over social media, maybe use some of that energy to also read this article: https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/how-to-help-syrian-refugees-5th-anniversary-crisis/ and do something worthwhile with your time/something that helps people who are *actually* suffering.