Saturday, 15 October 2016

Are you responsible for what you write, or are your characters?

I always thought the answer to this was simple; both. But I'm not a politician, and I'm not responsible for what I, or the characters, think or say within the pages of a book. In real life, I'm moderately nice. Sometimes (often?) I write characters who are nasty buggers. But it's not the story which concerns me, it's the subtext and the meaning and the message within the story.

Clive Barker, a writer I like quite a bit, said (paraphrased) a writer shouldn't censor themselves. I agreed for a long, long time. I still do, for the most part.

We're not politicians, no. We don't need party members. We're not divine and we don't need followers. We're not obligated to sell a message, or a belief...but we do have some tiny influence, don't we? An awful lot of the things I hold dear - ways to strive to be a better man than I was yesterday - come from reading, and thinking about the things I read. There's an impact. You can't tell me that hugely human, and humane, words have no effect. Terry Pratchett's view of mankind, Stan Lee's view of heroism, Dr. Seuss' sensibility, Carl Sagan's wonder...the list is very long indeed.

A silly book made me question not what a writer should or shouldn't write (that's up to them) but about the underlying thoughts a reader might take from your tale. It was Lawrence Block's 'Matt Scudder' (#2 - title's not really relevant). The protagonist is dirty, sullied, corrupt...all things that don't bother me in the slightest. It's a story, fiction, and doesn't matter a hill of beans. What did trouble me was the assertion that nothing short of murder affected the protagonist. He didn't care if you were a thief, a blackmailer, a pornographer, a drug dealer...but when faced with a paedophile he largely let it slide - the abuse of young boys (11 years old, here) and he only intervened when the guy killed a man.

Now, Lawrence Block's a writer and Scudder's a character, and there's a distinction between the two, just as an actor isn't the character they play. But it made me question where I'd draw the line. I'm not going to cross out passages, go back, boycott Block (I won't read Matt Scudder stories again more because one's enough). Made me question not what a writer should put in, or where a writer should go...but if good sense should move a writer somewhere. People will still say your characters do it, but you write it. You figure out what's sensible, what's not. King's Under the Dome, for me, overstepped a writer trying to put across a message dear to them - it was heavy handed. Subtext, meaning, implications, these things sit beneath a story and give it a foundation, not on top. The story's the star, the characters tell it, but what happens underneath is something else entirely.

Me. Yoda'ing.

We're not politicians, and that's important because people might actually take something away from a book that will last. Thoughts, words that come out of our mouths, but more - the actions we take upon them - are formed by those things which sit beneath, and that's the subtext of a book, and more; the subtext of us.

That's important, isn't it?

Fucked if I know. It's just a blog.

Yoda's done for the day. Later.

Love you.