Will you still love me?

at a conference--1990
at a conference--1990

I still have stories to tell. I can’t decide whether I want to tell them. You might not like me anymore.

Perhaps I fail at writing well-rounded complex characters–but I do try. Do you listen to your characters? Can you be sympathetic to fictional characters if you can’t manage it for real people? There seems to be an amazing mount of not listening that goes on in the world after all. And no one ever thinks it is him or her. Always the other person isn’t listening. It reminds me of the statistic that 80% of drivers believe themselves to be above average at driving. Or, you know, all the kids are above average.

I believe I can’t be a truly great writer until I can understand the guy I hate. That’s not the only criteria, of course, but it is on the list.

Writers are often labelled–horror writer, fantasy writer, romance writer, literary writer… You know how you feel when you hear that label. You attribute all sorts of things to this person even if–especially if–you haven’t read anything this person has written. We all do it. This is why I resist taking on a label. I’ll be rejected on that alone. Should that matter? Probably not.

So by telling certain stories, I’ll be put into a category–one of those people. And I’ll be judged accordingly. A brave person wouldn’t care and who can change human nature?

How much do you self-censor? Do you think you’ve ever encouraged (unwittingly or otherwise) self-censorship in others? Would you really want to live in a world where the only voices you heard were ones you agreed with? Lots of people I know answer of course not. But they don’t go out and act that way. When was the last time you read something by a writer you disliked/disagreed with–for whatever reason–and found you agreed with something that person said?

(I’m not going to say where the picture posted here was taken so you can’t jump to conclusions about me. As a very wise writer once said, “Don’t jump to conclusions. You’ll get wet swimming back.”)

12 thoughts on “Will you still love me?

  1. I’m reminded of a joke – everyone who drives faster than me is an idiot, and everyone who drives slower is an a**hole. 😀

    As for understanding your characters, I think it’s critical for writers to do this. The writer, above all people, needs to know what makes that character tick and what their motivations are, even if some/all of that isn’t revealed in the story.

    We are all labeled, in every facet of our lives. Some labels are wrong, some are misunderstood, some are true and correct. There’s nothing any of us can do about it, that’s just human nature, to label people to help us understand them. It gives a foundation from where we can start a dialogue if we choose. No one is ever going to totally agree with anyone else, that’s just a fact. In some ways, all we can do is embrace the labels – if we feel they’re accurate.

    The last time I read something by a writer I disagreed with, but agreed with something they said? Hmm. Maybe Stephen King. Ideologically we are probably polar opposites, but I agree with a lot of things he says about writing, and I think he’s an interesting and likable guy. Wrong about a lot of things, but interesting. 😉

    And isn’t that always the way? Embrace who you are. Yes, we’ll still love you. 🙂

    1. You’re right that it is human nature to label. Oh so true. But I’d like to think we can do a few things about it–fight labels that cause harm to us or to others. And take more care in how we label.

      I like Stephen King even though I don’t read his fiction–I don’t read horror. But I like his essays. Christopher Hitchens is writer I read who I disagree with on many things. But I love reading him.

  2. I’ve often had the opposite problem- so willing to give the other his due and see his side that I would lose track of what it is I actually feel and believe. So my learning curve has been to more clearly define and understand my point of view, and then articulate it. And then not worry about what other people think about it. I offended some people in my spiritual community when I published my first nonfiction book, but I’m still glad I wrote it. I also was labelled by some people as one of *those* writers by using the word Christ in the title, even though I don’t fit a particular denomination or category: far from it.

    One writer I used to read even though I disagreed with him most of the time was William F Buckley Jr. Great writer, but my gosh, what a major jerk.

    1. I understand that flip side, Sarah. I’ve tried to be so understanding that I’ve let others walk all over me…for a while anyway.

      Ah, Mr. Buckley. I’m with you on that.

  3. As much as I love my wife, I don’t agree with her 100% of the time. As much as I love my children, I don’t condone everything they do and say. Disagreements are part of life. So is being labeled.

    Without labels, science collapses. The entire field of psychology is based on being able to label people and their mental components. Biology, zoology, sociology, geology, geography, mathematics — everything. Show me something that doesn’t use labels. Is labeling people wrong? I guess that depends on the label and the accuracy thereof.

    I’m a “horror writer”. Does that label fit? Well, sort of. But that doesn’t mean I can’t write other things. It’s just the body of my work falls into that category, some would say. I don’t resent the label. I’ve been labeled “angry” and “jackass” too, and I wouldn’t argue those any more than I’d argue the “horror writer” label.

    As for “listening to” my characters … boy, this is something I have the worst time understanding. I just … can’t do it. I can’t understand how writers have characters acting like autonomous, actual people in their mental imagery, when those people are made-up, figments of imagination, NOT actual, living, breathing people. I don’t get it. I’ve tried; it doesn’t work for me. I don’t know how they do it. It’s frustrating, because I wonder if that means I’m not a writer, or not a very good one (oh, look; labels again). But the mechanism of dissolving the wall between reality and imagination doesn’t work for me. It just … doesn’t.

    *Sigh* Oh well. I’ll do what I can with the brain I have, and if it’s not good enough because the characters in my mind don’t “come alive” and get out of line with my plots and themes and whatnot, well … time will show that too, won’t it?

    1. Oh, I know labeling is necessary. I label things to. I just wish people would take more care when labeling people. And some labels are complicated but few people take the time to figure that out. Labeling people has been used for great evils and for good. Labeling folks can help society roll along and even keep us safe. So I’m not against all labels.

      My characters aren’t autonomous. No. But if they were real, I try to imagine them as they’d be–flaws and all. No cardboard characters, you know, and not all little copies of me.

      You write the way YOU write. You can think of your characters the way that works. However the characters get on the page–if you get them there and people like reading about them, you’ve done your job.

  4. Politics is such a hot-button area for me; I think I’m well-informed about “issues” and proposed solutions on all sides and so on, and it might (or might not) surprise most readers of my blog to know how important politics are to me. But it’s a conscious choice. Politics is too much with me — and, I think, with most people — in real life. Let my blog be a sanctuary from all the verbal gunfire, I say. You want to argue, go next door.

    So I guess I’d have to say yeah, I self-censor quite a bit.

    But that’s on the blog. In my fiction, I’m trying hard to learn NOT to self-censor. Sometimes this has to do with simple (or complex) cussing, which I know makes a lot of readers uncomfortable. There are some ways to get around this, e.g. “goddam” doesn’t seem to set people off quite as much as when you spell it out. But if I do it too much it just feels bogus. Maybe I’m hanging around with the wrong sort of people, because they tend not to be offended by language.

    And situations, oboy, that’s tricky. It’s hard to escape the “What if Mom were to read this?” shackles. Mother or otherwise, do I worry too much that readers will see ME in despicable characters? Heck yeah: absolutely too much. So I’m trying to get past that. And probably swinging too far in the other direction, haha.

    1. Every time I start talking politics I regret it. I hate arguing.

      But it is hard to imagine you hanging out with the wrong sort of people–whoever they are. I’m lucky that I don’t have enough family to care about censoring myself (though in-laws are another matter).

  5. Feel the fear and do it anyway …. and suck it up Princess. That’s what I tell myself anyway … and don’t worry if they Love you. In the end …love yourself … the rest will follow. If you don’t love you why would anyone else? If you doubt you why shouldn’t everyone else? ah yes ,,,, such strange beings we are. rambling … sorry. See? imperfect!! ah …lovin it.

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