It is a well known fact that authors are mysterious creatures of the darkness.
Trying to understand them is a bit like trying to understand a leviathan that occasionally looks like a human, survives on evil cake from the dark side, uses its flippers for typing — AND YET STILL TERRORISES THE SEVEN SEAS AT NIGHT. This is a true summary. Ask any leviathan / author you know.
But seriously now, it is very hard to understand authors for two reasons being: (1) if you’re not one, and (2) we’re actually not all a hive mind so all we have different thoughts / opinions / number of flippers instead of hands.
Keep Point #2 in mind. ALWAYS. Good job.
But I do have ONE THING I can concretely tell you that is 5000% actuality that will probably blow your socks off:
AUTHORS DO NOT AGREE WITH EVERYTHING THEY WRITE.
I’ve seen a bit of an uprising in reviews, on Goodreads, and especially on twitter, of people being furious at certain aspects of books with the thoughts of “BUT HOW COULD THIS AUTHOR ENDORSE THINGS LIKE THIS!!!” and “IF THE AUTHORS BELIEVES IN THIS EVIL I WILL NEVER SUPPORT THEM!!” and “THIS IS A DISGUSTING TOPIC TO WRITE ABOUT!!!” and even, the worst yet: “THIS AUTHOR IS NOT A LEVIATHAN AND THEIR LIFE IS A LIE!!!”
Now all of these are fair statements (except the last, don’t judge, you rude little tortoise) because the universe does not require us to love everything we read or agree with it. THANK GOODNESS WE ARE ALL INDIVIDUALS WITH OUR OWN BRAINS. If you don’t like a topic a book is about, you don’t have to. The end! Move on! Eat an ice cream sandwich! Rule a planet! Hug your cacti! It’s totally cool.
But sometimes a small reality check and a little pondering on fairness is in order. Just a little bit of thinking. Don’t hurt yourself now. And because this post is disgustingly without lists, we obviously need to list reasons WHY authors will write about things they do not personally disagree with:
- Because the world is not perfect.
- And actually WE BOOKWORMS would all get notoriously annoyed if books were perfect or characters were flawless.
- Also we’d be downright furious if books were all super black and white about good vs evil.
- Because guess what? Good people do horrid things and horrid people do good things. It’s quite frustrating. Who on earth do you decide to take out to a polite teaparty? You can never tell.
- In real life (which is what books do reflect to a certain extent; even ones made up of unicorns and zombies) your favourite cousin will say something sexist and your best friend will be prejudice and your internet friend will emphatically hate your favourite book which obviously means they were dropped on their head as a baby. BUT THIS IS JUST THE UNFORTUNATE REALITY.
- It’s actually very interesting to explore things you disagree with. It gives you a different perspective to write about.
- When writing advice says “your character needs flaws” these flaws aren’t just “make them sneeze 7 times in a row while they’re hiding from badies”. These flaws are REAL things that are REALLY annoying and can QUITE CREDIBLY be problematic.
- Authors write about things that disturb them to bring attention to those things. A society critique, perhaps. A frustration they’ve faced. Something they want to warn people about.
This of course does not excuse a book or author for being problematic. That’s not the point of my post! Authors will write things they honestly believe in that are EXTREMELY PROBLEMATIC. And also authors will accidentally write things that are EXTREMELY PROBLEMATIC and they will learn, in a hard way, that their behaviour must change.
But I do think we should all consider that an author CAN write a character with problematic tendencies without the author themselves sharing the beliefs.
I personally do not believe that Suzanne Collins would like the country to use the Hunger Games which will involve people getting murdered for “entertainment”. Yet Katniss would have voted yes to the Hunger Games being used on her enemies.
I don’t believe Lemony Snicket thinks children deserve lives of misfortune. Yet obviously his characters get kicked in the teeth with it on every second page.
I don’t believe Sara J Maas wants to kill people, yet her protagonist is an assassin.
I don’t believe Leigh Bardugo thinks the best way to get back at your enemies is to STEAL EVERYTHING THEY OWN AND FRIGHTEN THEIR SOCKS OFF WITH EVIL THREATS, yet her protagonist does just that.
I don’t believe Adam Silvera is dismissive of mental illness even though his protagonist calls himself “crazy” and thinks his OCD might just be a “quirk”.
Because this is obviously a super important question! We can’t go around excusing everything and we won’t. And it’s impossible to always believe authors are doing the right thing. Because they won’t. Not always.
- Characters in the book will REFUTE the bad things. A book can have sexism in it, but it’s not sexist if people are standing up to it and punching it in the eyeballs.
- The character will learn, change, and develop as the story continues. Therefore resolving their problematic behaviour. They might also be called out by another character.
- Evil gets PUNCHED and goodness gets invited out for scones and jam providing it’s not marmalade jam because if people are serving up marmalade they might be evil. Little life advice for you there.
- The bad/problematic things aren’t glorified. For instance: there’s a difference between a character being abused in a book to the character falling in love with their abuser, forgiving them, and the abuse turning out to be sexy. The latter is glorified problematic abuse and #nope.
I haven’t done a discussion post in just about 30 years (well, maybe 3 months?) BUT LOOK! I’M BACK TO HAVING THOUGHTS! (The use of the term “back to having thoughts” is debatable but take it as you will.) But to boil down what I want to say to one sentence is just that:
I think authors can write about horrendous things and not personally agree with them. Authors are not their characters.
It’s not true for every author ever. It can be hard to tell. And you can totally disagree with me but that means YOU GOTTA DISCUSS IT WITH ME IN THE COMMENTS. Because I’m keen for your intelligent thoughts too, you hedgehogs of glory!
I, for one, write a lot of dark stories. I’ve written about a girl who was deaf and considered herself broken. She learnt (while other characters called her out on this problematic thinking) that she was emphatically wrong. I’ve written about a boy who kills people and the consequences he faced. I’ve written unhealthy relationships, but the characters fixed/changed/abandoned them for the right reasons. FOR GOODNESS SAKES: I wrote a character who hated cake. Hated it. I can 100% write about things I emphatically disagree with because I’m reflecting the world (which often sucks) and I want to think about what I write. Writing flaws are important.
SO TALK TO ME, FIENDS! i am obviously entirely needing of your discussions. do you think authors should agree with what they right??? how do you tell if a book is discussing problematic things or if the book ITSELF IS problematic?? do you think marmalade jam is evil??? because please. why does it exist.