First, I would like to thank Honya’s Bookshelf for nominating ShannonAThompson.com for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award. I posted about it on my author Facebook, but here were the three blogs I nominated – A Writer’s Life, EBook Bum, Books are Delicious – and I would love for you all to check them out.
July is here, and I’m beginning this sizzling hot month with a topic that I often get heated about. (Not angry. Just passionate.) As a reader, writer, and employee of a publisher, I see all sides of this topic, but the most common misconception I see is writers believe in whatever the characters or story expresses. I am here to disprove this.
I’ve actually mentioned it before in my article The Top Ten Seriously Awkward Conversations I’ve Had When People Hear I’m A Writer, but here’s the small quote about that:
“7. Why are you pro/con (insert controversial political or religious topic here)?
I’m sorry – what? Just because my character carries a gun on his right hip or gets an abortion or believes God isn’t real, doesn’t mean that I do these things, let alone believe in them. In fact, I don’t have a lot in common with many of my characters.”
When I started publishing, I was really young and naïve. I never even considered someone judging my personal life off of my work, but – to my horror – this happened. (And “horror” is an appropriate word.)
My first novel that I published was November Snow. A lot of characters – mainly young children – die. (It says this on the back of the book. Just saying.) And for some reason, shocked readers seemed to look at me a little different the next day. I even had a teacher ask me if I needed to talk to someone in a concerned tone I will never forget.
To me, this was so surprising because I felt like they looked at me as if the violent world was a reflection of some deep and dark complexity inside my teenage soul, but – in reality – I was just writing a story about discrimination, violence against the innocent, and oppression.
The reason I’m so passionate about this topic – that authors are NOT their fictional stories – is because I felt as if the meaning of my novel disappeared under the concerned wave of my reading peers.
Before you think, “Oh. That was only because you were 16 and in high school.” Here’s a few example from my latest work. (Spoiler Alert for Seconds Before Sunrise. If you want to skip the spoilers, please go to the next bolded line.)
In Seconds Before Sunrise, Jessica goes out with her friends. She drinks. The reader sees her have a few beers and a shot of vodka, but she does mention that she drank more than that in the next chapter. However, I am now being asked if I am such a lightweight. (Because apparently all of us brunettes are lightweights.) I’ve also been asked if I like beer (no) and vodka (yes. Only Grey Goose. What can I say? I’m half-French.)
Just because Jessica Taylor goes to a bar underage with her friends does not mean I go to the bar with my friends underage, that I ever went to a bar underage, or that I’m encouraging kids to get into bars underage. First of all, I’m not underage, and second, I don’t have any friends. If I’m going to the bar, I’m taking my characters with me. (And probably a notepad so I can write interesting stuff down about interesting people who will probably become interesting characters in my next interesting novel.)
Now, if I had to be honest, sure, there are some things I might have in common with my characters. But I have lots of things in common with a lot of people. That doesn’t mean we are the same person. Same thing with characters. One of the biggest questions I’m asked about The Timely Death Trilogy has to do with the physical description of Jessica Taylor in Minutes Before Sunset and how I look.
I get it. Jessica has blue eyes and curly, brown hair. I can see why people might think that’s why she looks a certain way. But there are millions of people with curly, brown hair and blue eyes. And she also has a double identity. As a shade, she has straight, black hair, so she doesn’t always have curly, brown hair. In another point, I picture her hair to be much darker than mine and a lot more maintained. It’s also curlier. She also has blue eyes. Mine are gray – they are technically called “moonlit.” (Awesome.) And she has purple eyes when she’s a shade. When I turn into a shade – wait. I don’t. I don’t transform into a mystical being at night, and if I did, I surely wouldn’t admit to it.
But I try to avoid describing my protagonists in extravagant details, especially since it is written in first POV, because I want my readers to be able to put themselves in their shoes. I don’t want readers to think they are supposed to be in MY shoes instead. And my next novel, Take Me Tomorrow, is told from one perspective, Sophia Gray. She loves her elkhound-husky, Argos, but she hates cats. She absolutely despises cats. If you’ve been following me for a while, then, you already know that I don’t. I’m a cat lady. But here’s a venn diagram – Take Me Tomorrow style – to show difference and similarities.
Just because a character does/thinks/feels something does not mean that it is a reflection of the author. It’s not some subconscious, multi-personality Matrix. It’s not deep-rooted secrets or twisted desires surfacing under the tip of our almost-empty pens. Sure, it could be that way for some (or even many authors) but not all of us are basing our novels and characters off of our real lives. The art is just art. It’s a story. And that can be a pretty deep and complex experience without the author’s personal life being involved.
I am not my characters, but more importantly – my characters are not me. They are complex and meaningful and questioning and confusing and lovely in their own way, and that’s what makes books so amazing. If I were the protagonist in all of my novels, you wouldn’t be shown a world with clairvoyant drugs or paranormal shades. You would read about me sitting around with my cat. And I think we all know what we would rather read. :]
Sit back and enjoy the read! And if you’ve ever experienced someone thinking you are what you write, please share below!