Judging writers by their characters

With every new book I publish, sometimes I worry about alienating earlier readers who started following my writing after reading Confessions of a Prodigal Daughter. I worry about making the wrong impression in conservative places like church, as each novel gets progressively edgier. I’ve shifted from writing Young Adult novels to New Adult not just because my characters are older, but the themes are maturing as well.

I’ve found that there’s a certain freedom in creating characters who don’t necessarily share my values. That’s a common misconception people have: that the author always endorses the actions of their character(s). I can say with certainty that Adelaide in A Stunning Accusation has very different values than I do when it comes to relationships. She lives a lifestyle I never found appealing (though there’s a reason for it – but explaining it would be a major spoiler).

Since I’m writing for a specific audience, I wanted to write a story that appeals to their values. Young adults who are impacted by rape culture are not typically abstinent. They probably curse and drink. This demographic deserves to know that their previous sexual choices have no relevance to being sexually assaulted. This is a group of people who are commonly told that if they didn’t sleep around so much, if they didn’t get drunk so often, they wouldn’t have been raped. That is a lie, and this is a story I wanted to write for them.

But this book is not “Christian,” which puts me in an odd position as I meet new people at church who ask me what I do for a living, and where they can find my books. I have different objectives for each book I write, and I already made my Christian statement with Confessions. There’s a fine line between holding a core set of values that separate you from the rest, and following a prescribed set of rules because it’s expected of you. That’s a battle I struggle with when writing for specific audiences: but it’s a very good reason why I don’t write Christian fiction.

I’m hoping that people will be able to appreciate the overall message of my book without getting hung up on the choices my characters make. Believe it or not, they aren’t all autobiographical – and some of my favorite books are the ones where the characters make all kinds of messy choices, but become wiser and stronger as a result of them.

Anyone else worry about readers judging your character based on what you write about?

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About Beth Caplin

Just an author, blogger, and editor working hard so my cats can have a better life.
This entry was posted in Social Issues, Theology, Writing & Publishing and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Judging writers by their characters

  1. AthenaC says:

    I have some similar concerns when I write, even though I write mainly personal stories and nonfiction blog posts. I hold a rather uncommon combination of viewpoints (at least, it seems that way from what I read), so I’m concerned sometimes that if I write in support of one issue, people who read that will assume my opinions on a whole host of other (usually) related issues. But I’m not going to explain everything about how I see the world in every blog post or even in my “About Me” page – that would take too long.

    So I settle for trying to stay focused in any particular piece I write.

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  2. I’ve had the same concern. In particular, I think about the language I allow my characters to use. Then I remember that christian actors take on roles in film or on stage and they portray them as realistically as possible. They do this for the art and not because they want to promote the behavior of murderer, rapist, etc. They are just story telling. So are we.

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  3. Lydia Thomas says:

    I’ve found I care more about whether a character is compelling than what values they have, but that’s just me.

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  4. I write a lot of different types of characters, including some that have very different values and lives than me. One of my recent ideas for a future story involves a female protagonist who is very violent and doesn’t have the same views on relationships as I do. I consider myself a Christian and some of my characters are Christian too, but even them aren’t necessarily like me. I hope that most people are able not to judge an auhor based on their characters. 🙂

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  5. All the time. My main character is a foul-mouthed party girl. So sometimes I’m anxious people will assume that because she’s my protagonist, I am supporting the sheer volume of four-letter words, drinking, and sex that my protagonist is involved in.

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    • Beth Caplin says:

      I think people who are willing to discard a book at the first sight of a bad word are probably people I wouldn’t be comfortable being myself around anyway. No disrespect, but I’m not an easily-boxed kinda person 🙂

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  6. “The Christian shoemaker does his duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.”– Martin Luther

    Liked by 2 people

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