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This soap box is not big enough for both of us

There are three different people involved in any given story at any given time.

There is the writer, who brings to it all of her own pre-conceived notions, ideological dogmas, cultural prejudices. There is the reader, who brings a different set of baggage to the interpretation of the story.

And then there is the character through who the story is being told.

Let’s leave the reader out of it because the things that the readers bring to the work are not remotely in the writer’s bailiwick. But the other two people involved – the character and his or her creator – can sometimes square off in epic battles.

A character may be gay. Or fat. Or black. Or Muslim. Or a ommunist. Worship a different god, and you’re suspect. Have a relationship with your body and your sexuality which is at odds with the norm and you are suspect. Characters laboring under these burdens will have strong opinions and will, or should, be outspoken about them.

A Muslim girl from an immigrant family may be reviled for wearing the hijab to a secular school. The Big Girl in the corner, who gets catcalls such as “hey, Thunder Thighs!” might have extremely strong opinions about the people who are doing this, and about the body that she is wearing. That attitude towards her body can be an abysmally low self-esteem, a defiant acceptance of her shape, or a complex psychological elixir which contains both of these things mixed together in explosive proportions.

The point is, these characters will have thoughts and feelings about the circumstances in which they find themselves. They will have opinions. These opinions – and pay attention now, this is important – MAY BE COMPLETELY AND DIAMETRICALLY AT ODDS WITH THOSE OF THEIR CREATOR AUTHOR.

Some authors find it impossible to keep their own ideological pinions in check, and use stories and characters as mouthpieces for their own beliefs. The temptation is to simply assign villain roles to those characters who happen to disagree with the author. The trouble with this scenario is that it is painfully obvious that the author is the one on the soapbox, NOT the character.

In one of my book, “Embers of heaven“, I portrayed a pair of star-crossed lovers who had violently opposed ideological and moral values. I gave them both EQUAL STAGE TIME. I took no sides. It was up to the reader, eventually, to figure it out. That’s because neither of them was purely right or purely wrong – but acted according to their own lights and their own faith, in the best way they knew how. I let them speak for themselves. Not an opinion amongst them was something that I had climbed up on the soapbox to expound. The story did not belong to me; it belonged to its protagonists.

I, as the author, have had to learn to listen, have had to learn the art of silence. I have had to learn how to raise a character well, like a mother would raise a well-behaved child, and teach that haracter all that needs to be known in order for the story to happen. After that… I step back, and off the soapbox. If I have opinions on something, you will find them on my blog, not in the story.

The basic concept is this: what I do when I write a story is that I create a character to carry it, and then allow that character to develop a personality which is the best possible fit to the story in question. If that writer has done the job properly the writer’s opinions will never intrude on what the character has to say.

This soapbox is not big enough for the both of us.

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About AlmaAlexander

I am a novelist, short story writer and anthologist.

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