More Thoughts on Characters

There is a trend lately I’ve noticed.  Perhaps it’s been this way for a long time, but it didn’t start to grab my attention until about five years ago.  I don’t know if it is the hypersensitive culture we now live in that’s contributing or not, but it appears that individual characters in fiction are viewed as representing a whole group.  An example, someone I used to know made the comment he doesn’t like the show Home Improvement because Tim Taylor is aloof and a bad example of a husband, father, and a man in general.  That assessment may be true, but that isn’t the point.  Tim’s character isn’t supposed to represent all men it is an exaggeration of what some men might be like, or more specifically these are traits specific to his character that are hyperbolic due to the comedy genre. 

I have come across countless critiques like this where someone will complain about a character poorly representing women, the LGBT, religion, race, or anything you can think of.  There may be certain isolated incidents where this complaint is warranted due to shady motivations from the writer.  However, unless there is evidence to support that the writer is using a character to propel stereotypes, that shouldn’t be assumed.

The personality traits of my characters reflect on them alone.  If a woman has a weakness that doesn’t mean I think all women are weak or need to be saved by men.  If there is a male character in my books that is a little dull that doesn’t mean I think men are dull or can only survive if a woman is there to prop him up.

Fiction, if done right, should not be afraid to have a variety of characters and the personalities of the individuals in the story do not necessarily reflect on a greater whole.

A Sensitive Culture

In a world and a time when tolerance is demanded by culture, there seems to be very little of it. This isn’t a post about preaching tolerance because that is an ideology with several philosophical undertones. What I think is important to address is how volatile things seem. Some may blame the election, and perhaps that has a lot to do with it, but I think these feelings have been there for a while. What sort of feelings do I mean specifically? That we can’t seem to get to a point where we can agree to disagree and move on.

On all sides of the issues, this seems far too common. People who do not share one point of view with another group are evil or ignorant, and then the same claims are made right back from the other side. All the while this is going on, we have somehow become uber-sensitive. In some circles if you disagree with someone, you are a called a bigot or worse. The word bigot is thrown around so much that, from my point of view, it has lost its meaning. Colleges now establish “safe places” for students so they aren’t “triggered” by something offensive. What politicians, comedians, actors, authors and others say is often misconstrued even if the intent is good. Look, you have a right to be offended, and in a free society someone has the right to be offensive, intentional or otherwise. From what I’m seeing, most of the time when people get in an uproar over something, it wasn’t meant the way it was taken. What happened to being offended and just moving on or not supporting that artist? No, people in the public have to be overly cautious otherwise the “thought police” will hound them into submission. Why are we so sensitive? Why is it those who seem the most sensitive often say offensive things themselves?

I have my thoughts on right and wrong, politics and faith. I also understand that there are people whom I disagree with, but that is okay! I know other people aren’t going to see things the way I do. So often I see this mentality though: “if you don’t agree you are horrible! How can you be for (or against) that!? Friendships are broken sometimes due to this, and unnecessary strains are placed on families. This is called pride, and we need to think about what is worth debating and what is worth dying over. Even with the stuff we are willing to die for, we all need to realize there is a time and a place for that too. For instance, I know I’m not going to convince a bunch of strangers of my dearly-held views by debating them online.

Now since I try to keep this blog aligned with writing, what does this have to do with being an author? Well, as I said in other posts, it feels like writers and other artists have to walk on egg shells. People get offended so easily it seems, especially if someone simply disagrees with the other person. Anymore, merely having a different viewpoint can be seen as an attack. Disagreeing is fine, but such a singular mindset is immature. Why do some people go through life expecting everyone else to simply agree with them? Authors write what the characters lead them to put down on paper. I’ve said it before and I will say it again, a writer should never pander to over-sensitives in the culture.