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Plot vs Friends

What to do when your plot doesn’t match the politics/beliefs/values of your friends? This had not occured to me until one day a friend commented on a book I was working on and I realized that she was worried that a character might act in a way that could send the wrong signal to certain readers.

How much responsibility does any writer have here? If a character undergoes a trauma, and a reader happens to have had a smiliar experience, how much should the writer worry about this? To say that you can’t consider the possiblity of every single reader is one obvious answer. To say that you have to be true to your story whatever it and however it goes is another. But perhaps those answers don’t fully address what I’m trying to ask.

Sometimes my characters act in ways that are foolish, crazy, or wrong–hence they get to be in a novel! But it amazes me how many people out there seem to think that by writing such characters you are condoning such behavior. I mean, witness the anti-smoke rules in movies these days. I don’t smoke, but telling a writer a character can’t smoke because kids will see it…it bothers me. Granted, putting in smoking because a cigarette company has paid for product placement makes even less artistic sense. Hey, it should be up to the writer–is it true to the character?

I’ve also rumblings about regulating certain kinds of film and stories which could possibly make a story like Romeo and Juliet illegal because teenagers have sex. Good heavens–do they? I suppose new laws like this would mean I’m in trouble…

But some vague law that may or may not do what it threatens is not my immediate concern. More relevant to my unpublished life are my friends who I hope will not see me as an immoral person because of the things I write. Of course, worse would be if they just saw me as a bad writer.

Anyway, I am going to write the story and some will follow, perhaps others will not. I’ve still got to go.

7 thoughts on “Plot vs Friends

  1. I hope I wasn’t that friend! I don’t recall anything I might have said that would cause you this concern, but I know that it’s something I think about in my own work and other people’s and if I ever pontificate or respond to certain things I guess it could come off that way.

    Whether or not it was me, I do have a strong opinion about this subject (surprise!) and it’s that the actions of characters are totally different from any narrative ‘opinion’ that might come across. To take a widely-observed example (and therefore hopefully non-controversial; its late and I’m tired, so I’m not up to arguing the many more controversial examples i could come up with), teenage girls in classic horror films often get punished for sexual behaviour by ending up as the slasher’s next victim. That to me sends a narrative message about the behaviour, which is totally different than if a character in the film lectures her about it, or even says she deserves to die for it.

    It’s funny, because as research for my next chapter I was just reading up on the film Crash (1996), which happens to be a favourite of mine even though it is very ugly and disturbing. Many of the objections seem to be that the characters are acting in sick ways, but to me the point of the movie was never to endorse that behaviour, just to show it and maybe offer some speculation about what caused it.

    Things are even more complicated in books that have first-person narration, because the narrator’s voice often gets mistaken for the writer’s own, but I find it very interesting and freeing to write as someone who thinks in ways that I never think. My viewpoint character in 2005’s NaNo was very misogynistic–or at least, he had a lot of misogynistic trains of thought because that’s what he thought he was supposed to think. I would hope that these things never get mistaken for my views (anyone who spent five minutes talking to me would be quickly disabused, I’m sure), but as writers that’s the risk we take.

  2. Hands down, the best writing advice any one has ever given me…
    “Write the book YOU want to read.”

    I’d say that you should be true to your characters. If you start censoring them (their words, actions, decisions, thoughts), the result could be disastrous.

    I’m currently participating in an online book group discussion about my novel. As with most of these discussions, the readers have come around to some hot topics and loaded questions like, “Does anyone deserve to die?” I’m standing clear. If a question comes up about one of the character’s motivations when it comes to that (or any) subject, then I’m happy to answer it. If they want to know my personal stance – then I’ll have to choose whether or not to address it or remind them that I’m there to discuss the book.
    Once my writing is in another reader’s hands, then I have to accept that they will do with it what they will. (And more often than not, it’s impossible to guess what a reader will “read” into what I’ve written.)

    Bask in your being a writer – hear voices in your head, dream of characters past and present, and do their bidding…(on paper, that is. đŸ˜‰

  3. Jess, the friend wasn’t you. Never fear.

    And to Ami and Jess, I do write the story I want, I just have moments of panic when I think about my friends reading it.

  4. I try not to nudge the conversation to politics with my friends. Sometimes it’s inevitable but we all try to be understanding and congenial. When I went to the city hall to be part of the gay marriage/gay rights rally a couple years ago, my more conservative friends simply wouldn’t see to that. They did not even bring up the topic in our gatherings and maintain this “don’t ask, don’t tell” stance.

  5. Well, I would’ve been at city hall with you. Now in this case, I happen to support gay marriage/gay rights, but even if I didn’t, I always support my friends’ happiness. Politics and friendships are certainly challenges.

  6. Politics and friendship can be challenging, but what really divide people, at least from personal experience, is religion. I’ve been confronted by my friends with scripture after scripture how sinful, wrong, and immoral homosexuality is. I have met by reproachful eyes and raised brow. While I don’t try to interfere with people’s faith and religious belief, iI certainly have the right the live what brings most happiness.

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