The recent talk of watching what we say on the internet and being aware of our brand has brought up several ways people come to odd conclusions about us as writers. Despite all our work to ensure that our behavior supports who we are and what our brand is, people will always form their own impressions.
Too often, we see authors judged by the characters they write or the stories they choose to tell. I used to hope that social media, with the ability to interact directly with readers, would bring an end to misconceptions. But I now know it’s not a cure-all to banishing every type of assumption, as I learned last summer…
The Blog Assumptions: Sometimes people form opinions of us based on how we run our blog.
I keep my blog at a PG-13 level. However, that doesn’t mean I—or my stories—would ever be considered PG-13. While some of my stories have nothing but kissing, they still touch on very dark subjects, and many of my stories have open-door sex scenes. In movie language, most of my stories would be rated R. I write for adults, not teens.
Yet at the RWA National Conference last year, several people not only tried to watch their language around me, but also apologized to me when they swore. Several people. When I asked them why, they said, “On your blog, you’ve mentioned that you don’t swear.”
Uh, wow. I then pointed out that I’d also mentioned on my blog that some of my characters do swear, so my choice not to swear is about me, and only me. For the record, swearing doesn’t offend me. But I’d never realized that my choice not to swear—which I consider to be strictly a personal decision—could be interpreted as “swearing offends Jami.” Um…No. *smile*
The Genre Assumptions: Sometimes people form opinions of us based on the genre we write.
Annie Neugebauer commented on my last post:
“I do struggle with this sometimes, especially when it comes to the difference between “horror novel character” and “horror novel writer,” which many seem to think are the same thing (but I don’t).”
I empathize. I replied to Annie with:
“I run into similar thoughts about being a paranormal author. Some people expect me to be covered in tattoos (I have not a one) and sacrifice bats or something (nope) just because of the genre I write in.”
I know some paranormal romance/urban fantasy authors who are goth or pagan, but most aren’t. (And I don’t know of any who sacrifice bats. *smile*) Most are people you wouldn’t glance at twice if you saw them in person. Similarly, I know several erotic romance authors, many of whom write about BDSM, menage, etc., who are as vanilla as can be in their own life.
Just as people who read murder mysteries aren’t vicarious murderers, the authors who write them aren’t frustrated serial killers looking for an outlet. We are not our stories.
The Character Assumptions: Sometimes people form opinions of us based on the actions, dialogue, or morals of our characters.
This is a big one. Whether it’s our villain being how-could-the-author-even-come-up-with-that evil or our hero being flawed, some think that characters are a reflection on us as people. I can probably speak for most writers when I say “I am not my characters and they are not me.”
As I mentioned above, I have characters who swear (unlike me). I have one character who is a pacifist and one who is a murderer (and not the villain either). I have characters who are cynically non-religious and others who are believers. Some of my characters are on one side of the political spectrum, and some are on the other.
In short, my characters’ morals are sometimes different from mine. They make different choices than I would. They value different things than I do.
From the romance author perspective, I’ll reveal that they’re turned on by different activities than I am. The heroines choose guys they find attractive, and those heroes are often not “my type.” But hey, whatever works for them.
Characters Who Don’t Match Our Morals Are a Good Thing
I don’t want my characters to match my morals or values. All my heroes and heroines are “good” on some level (with some more questionable than others), but their beliefs—and how they express those beliefs—do not match mine.
For one thing, although I’m not perfect by any means, I need my characters to be extremely flawed and damaged. They need issues and complexities to work through during their stories.
I need my characters to be “real” inside my head, and that means I have to listen to what they want to say or do, even if I disagree with them. They couldn’t be their three-dimensional selves if I was censoring their thoughts or actions because of a worry about political correctness or an attempt to match their beliefs to mine.
In fact, the more my characters are different from me, the better I feel as an author. Then I know they’re not just a Mary Sue character representing my “ideal” life. I’m proud of being able to see both sides of religious or political divides so well that I can portray each position sympathetically.
Personally, I’ve found that my values come out more in my stories’ themes than through my characters’ thoughts, dialogue, or actions. My stories are about the power of love, the possibility of redemption, and the ordinary person growing into someone extraordinary while navigating a world that’s shaded with nuance more than black-and-white issues. Those ideas match my beliefs. But I could see other writers, especially in other genres, succeed with stories where even the themes don’t match their personal values.
Yes, I thought up (usually at a subconscious level) and type everything that appears in my stories, but imagination is a wonderful thing. Just because we can imagine it doesn’t mean we condone it, agree with it, or would want to do it ourselves.
*remembers some things characters have done* *shudders* Definitely not.
Do you disagree? Do our characters’ morals or the genres we write reflect on us? Are we responsible for what our characters do and say? Have others had the wrong impression of you because of your blog/social media interactions or the stories/characters you write? Does any aspect of your stories reflect who you are (characters, themes, etc.)?Pin It