Yes, Water is Wet – Character Discussion

30 Sep

This has been on my mind for some time, but I had a hard time coming up with an interesting way to talk about it. I recently signed the contract for my third novel – it’s a Steampunk Horror novel, with a villain protagonist. My best guess is, I did study Victorian and Edwardian literature back in university, and it usually had a gothic flare to it. My publisher and Champagne said they wanted more steampunk, so I set myself to write one.  The contention here, is that I’ve had more than one editor read the source material and find it “Problematic”. My main character is a monster, and not in a curly-mustache tie-you-to-the-tracks sort of way. I say no kiddin’.

Anyway, a point of contention I have about these upcoming books is that the characters aren’t squeaky clean. Don’t get me wrong – I admire good guys who do good – Tower of Obsidian kinda has a theme with this – but as a writer and especially as a reader, I like getting into the mindset of characters who aren’t necessarily acting decently all the time. I adore novels where we have an untrustworthy narrator, and I finally understand when C.S. Lewis said he found writing The Screwtape Letters “Distasteful”. I’m not going to preach the grey-on-grey morality as being superior to classic fantasy black-vs-white, but it’s far more interesting to me to watch someone with flaws act out and make their way in the word.

Then I came across this video.

I’m not a Potterhead, so I don’t have a dog in this fight, and I acknowledge that it’s sometimes extremely prudent to not be 100% faithful to the source material because the mediums are different, and it can work to a director’s advantage to change sequences so that they’re faithful to the spirit of what the author intended, but it got me thinking about media and its power. If you don’t want to watch it, it’s essentially how Book!Hermione is written as flawed whereas Movie!Hermione knows everything and can do no wrong – essentially reducing Ron’s character to comic relief. I’ve talked about female characters in media before, and I can’t say I disagree that it’s annoying – I can relate better to someone who sometimes flounders or gets frustrated then the beautiful, clever, witty one who farts peppermint.

This could be about idealization in the most common form of media (tv screen) and we could have that same discussion about Katniss Everdeen, if by my recollection, was an addict suffering from PTSD by book 3, but we couldn’t have this strong female role model be anything other than relatable on the screen.

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I know that girls need role models – but why are we being lazy, and making these characters flat? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I found book Katniss whiny, but I thought there was some growth, whereas in the movies, I found her to be vulnerable and sadly overcoming it… every movie.

Back to my own work – I understand that when we pick up a book, we have certain expectations, and those can’t be violated or we’ll come away at least initially disappointed (I can’t pitch my tragedy as a comedy, it had better be pretty darn gripping if you came for a chuckle) but I don’t see why we have to make everything palatable and not allow our readers to think for themselves. Books should be about pushing boundaries and exploring ideas – and those ideas shouldn’t necessarily be what’s considered safe. Granted, producing a book isn’t cheap and it’s minute compared to the price tag associated with a blockbuster, but at what point are we chipping away at what makes these characters interesting to begin with?

 

Thoughts? Have you ever had backlash because someone was worried how the source material might be interpreted?

Also, I found a daily challenge that’s meant for twitter, but I’ll be posting it here. Stay tuned, I’m going to keep the answers short and publish them on a timer, so hopefully you’ll get an update a day.

 

 

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