Writers are not their characters


When I was younger I used to write all the time. Then I got sucked into a terrible relationship and I stopped writing. Aside from being clinically depressed and being made to feel worthless on the whole in the relationship, the real reason I stopped writing was because the people I was involved with believed that every character I created was a representation of me. They used my characters against me. Every time a character in one of my stories did something wrong, I was blamed. If I wrote a character they perceived as sexist, I was sexist. If they thought a character was irresponsible or thoughtless, I was too. They focussed on the negative every time and slowly chipped away at my self-esteem until I just gave up on writing altogether because I was so terrified my characters would make a mistake and I would be found guilty.

It was a shitty way to live.

Now that I’m free of that relationship I’ve taken up writing again full force, but the thought that I’m intimately connected to my characters still lingers and sometimes it scares me so much I’m tempted not to explore taboos or subjects that could be seen as ‘risky’.

I sometimes get scared, but then I push on through with the mantra of ‘I am not my characters’.

As a writer it is vital to distinguish yourself from your characters, or else you’ll take on the burden of their mistakes and be tempted to keep your writing in a safe zone. But writing, and art in general, is not about being safe. It’s about taking risks, putting yourself out there and exploring the deep dark places where other people won’t go. As an artist I feel I have both the privilege and responsibility to rip myself open and show my inner conflicts to the world. Through our artists, humanity has the chance to examine ourselves and others and that is so important. Sometimes I hate my characters and disagree with them, but I write them anyway because art should be a place to explore anything and everything that’s in your mind.

Lately though, I’ve noticed that there are a lot of people out there who think in the way I was conditioned to think: that writers are their characters. I’ve seen writers torn to pieces by politically correct activists because they dared to explore something that was taboo or because they presented a sensitive situation in what others consider ‘a wrong light’. Some people seem to hold the opinion that writers are personally responsible for the views of their characters. If a character in a novel or TV show is sexist, racist, homophobic, weak, stereotypical or any number of other perceived issues, then the writer is directly to blame and clearly holds all of the same values or flaws as their protagonists.

This is wrong.

If this was really true, why wouldn’t more writers be personally lauded for creating wonderful, heroic characters? When was the last time you heard a review of a book that included the idea that the writer personally must be a true hero because they wrote an amazing character? It never happens.

If this was true wouldn’t every murder mystery writer be a psychopath?

We can’t just cherry pick what traits an artist gets endowed with because we’re angry or upset about a certain piece of art.

My (unverified psychological) theory is that people look for the bad before they look for the good and when they find the bad they want a scapegoat, someone to blame for the fact that they’re upset or don’t agree with something a character has done. But unfortunately this is just a quick, easy way to alienate writers and make them scared to explore concepts or look at angles that might not otherwise see the light of day.

As a society we need our writers and artists to feel free to express themselves without fear of personal attack. We need them to plumb the depths of their souls and expose their dark places without a band of angry villagers with torches and pitchforks banging down their door. We need to adjust our view of fiction to see it for what it is: a fictional story with fictional characters.

Sure we can infer things about writers from what they chose to write, but to make assumptions and rage against the individual for making a piece of art and being brave enough to put it out there is nothing but a subtle form of personalized censorship. We should be better than that. We should understand that fiction is not necessarily indicative of a person’s beliefs and disagree with the characters and their actions instead of the writer who created them. Criticize the art not the artist.

Writers are not their characters and it’s a dangerous thing for the freedom of art to suggest they are. If we condemn our artists for their creations they might stop creating altogether, like I did once upon a time, and then where would we be?


My (not so) secret hobbies

This is a post for www.writesofluid.com’s blog writing challenge.  One blog post a day for all of June!  Check it out at the website or on twitter: @sofluid or #wpad!

* * *

I’m not a crafty person.

I can barely sew, I can’t draw and I can’t even cut in a straight line.  I don’t have the patience to knit, I can’t fold very well (although Ben and I once folded a thousand paper cranes – half of mine looked like turkeys) and I don’t have a mind for music.

We play Mythic from time to time (a free association role playing game) and I’ve been known to LARP (Live Action Role Play), but as of right now I don’t do either with enough frequency to call it a hobby.

So really, when it came to the question of my ‘secret hobby’ for today’s post, I had little to offer up from the depths.  Right now I work a lot, write a lot, make videos and watch TV when we can fit it in.  But none of those things are hobbies particularly, so what would I call my hobbies?

The first is walking.  I love walking.  I love walking because it often leads to adventuring.  When I was traveling I hitchhiked a lot and the thing about hitchhiking is that it’s hard to do it in the city.  So I’d get dropped off at one end of a city and then I’d have to walk to the other end to keep on going.  With a heavy traveling pack, this was not the most fun, but it fostered a love for walking that I still carry with me.  When you’re walking you get to see things you never would have in a car or on the transit.  It forces you to look around at the world and offers you the opportunity to take a different path.  I’ve always loved the idea of a walkabout and sometimes the most liberating thing in the world is to just pick a direction and walk.  Walking allows you to think and breathe and explore.  Ben and I walk whenever we can and our most recent claim to fame is walking straight across the city from the Beaches to Etobicoke.  25km in 5 hours.  We learned we walk 5km an hour, very satisfying.

The second is fashion.  I don’t mean to say I am some sort of Dolche & Gabanna wearing fashionista.  Goodness no.  Like walking, I like fashion because it allows me to take a different path.  When I was a kid my Mom dressed me.  I was made to wear these flowery, lacy atrocities that still make me shudder to this day, but occasionally she’d put me in something cool.  My overalls in kindergarten, my Peter Pan outfit in grade three, once I had shoes that had a pocket in the tongue and I was in heaven (I would put pennies in the pocket and call it treasure).  I remember my fashion liberation well, it was grade seven and I went downtown for school and lucky for me, my school was right beside kensington market.  From there it was vintage tops and rainbow tights.  I discovered sparkles and ox blood doc martins and hair dye.  My graduation dress in grade 8 was a bright blue number and I dyed my hair a shocking orange to accompany it.  From there my love for cool clothes grew.  Now I have wings on my shoes, a bin full of striped tights and tutus and a handful of adorable dresses which I refer to as ‘clown chic’.  My inspirations are the circus and the world of fairies and the names of my favorite clothing stores involve the word ‘fairy’ or ‘cyber’.

I guess there’s a theme to the things I like: liberation.  I like being free to think and act and do what I want.  I like making choices for myself and forging my own path.  So whether on foot or in fashion I would definitely say my not so secret hobby is being free.

What about you?  What do you love?