Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Morality of Character

I, as a person, have strong, unwavering personal moral, ethical and religious beliefs.
I, as a writer, express through story the beliefs, experiences and ideas of fictional characters, primarily of a paranormal nature.
Where do my personal moral beliefs play into my story?  Do they change my characters?  Do they conflict with my characters?  Could I potentially write a story that I cannot publish due to that conflict?
What is my responsibility as a person of faith regarding the influence of my stories and the actions of my characters?
First off, I must acknowledge that the whole world does not share my beliefs, nor do they think, act, or live like me.  Therefore, how could I possibly write characters that live within the guidelines of ‘what I would do’?  I can’t.  That’s not realistic, nor would it be too interesting.  I mean really, I love my life, but it’s not the stuff of novels (sitcoms maybe, but not novels.)
My characters have lives of their own.  They follow their own paths.  While I have input (I’ll admit it, I do) I do not control their path, otherwise it would not be true to their character and the book would have no consistency or flow.  They all start at a different place, make different choices, have different experiences and come to their own conclusions.  If not, I could just write one book and then change the names and settings.  Although that would be easier, perhaps not as exciting for readers.
This whole issue didn’t come up through the writing of my first few books.  The characters thought a lot like me and even though they made different choices and faced different trials than I have or would, they still stayed fairly distant from the boundaries that made me nervous.  Then I came to the book I finished about a month ago.  The story is from a male perspective and the MC is very much not like me.  He’s human, I’ll give him that, but it’s about the only thing we have in common.  I like him, I really do, and it was fun to write him.  To get inside the thought process of someone completely not like yourself is a unique experience and I feel fortunate to have the capability of doing that.
The problem started when I realized that he had a fairly one track mind.  Most of my characters headed to the altar before things got hot and heavy, but I could tell from the start that would not be within character for him.  Then came the potty mouth!  It started as something he did under stress, but then as his stress elevated, so did his colorful language.  So what, you might be saying.  I don’t swear, ok, maybe in my head now and then, but never, NEVER out loud.  Now some of my characters have at different times, when it was a natural thing to do at the moment.  This was different however. 
What do I do with a character that has a potty mouth?  I mean, it’s completely natural for him, and it’s not even words that are all that bad to the normal public, but it causes me to stop and say, can I publish this?  Can I really present that it’s ok to talk like this when I never would, even though 99% of the world would say it’s completely normal and quite tame?
My answer?  Well, I haven’t passed that one on to readers yet, and I’m curious what they’ll think.  Will the ones who know me well question it, or not even notice?  Either way, I think you have to view the entirety of the work to get the true answer.  Overall I would definitely say that these characters don’t make choices I would make, by a long shot.  I think for the most part the big moral hurdles they stumble over are met with true consequences later on that neither glorify nor gloss over their decisions.  It’s not like some big moral lesson, in fact you’d have to be looking for it hard to really tie the action and the outcome together, but isn’t that a lot like life?  You make decisions as you go and it isn’t until years down the road that you actually look back and see how one choice affected your path.
As a writer I must write characters that are true to themselves.  If they aren’t then no one will believe their story or care to read it.  If they’re not, then I won’t even care about them.
As a person with my own strong moral beliefs it’s important to me that I never influence a reader along a path that goes against those beliefs.  It is however very important that I give them a story which takes them on a journey.  It should have highs and lows, it should present them with challenges to think about and choices to consider.  It should not be my path, but when the conclusion is drawn and the book is down it should be clear that their choices were either beneficial to their existence or detrimental to it.  That is where my morality comes into play as a writer.  I cannot take my spin off the plot.  Let the characters make the decisions they must, but the conclusion becomes clear in my mind when they do.
My characters may or may not share my morality or faith, but by the time they reach The End, the book must convey a little piece of my morality.  I cannot point you, the reader, down a path I would not dare to tread.

How does your personal morality and faith play into your writing?  Are there lines you cannot let your characters cross?

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