I don’t know about you but for me, being a writer is a bit like being the landlord of a house share. There are multiple people taking up residence in my mind at any one time. Each one of them has their own personality and yes, just like in real life, some of them are arseholes.
Sometimes they say mean things, they do bad things and sometimes they can be offensive. Is it my responsibility to stop them? Afterall, I’m the one holding the pen, I’m the one typing.
All the -isms and -phobias are part of society, we don’t live in a Utopia where everybody accepts everybody and nobody offends anyone.
Sad but unfortunately true.
One would hope that after billions of years of evolution we would have found a way to cohabit with mutual acceptance and respect but alas it hasn’t happened yet. So to write a book with Utopia in mind is doing a disservice to reality.
Even in a fantasy book there should be elements of realism, otherwise there’s nothing for the reader to relate to. Even in a make-believe world with goblins, dragons and magic, it’s the characters and their relationships with one another that gives the reader a doorway into that world. And sometimes those characters don’t always get along.
There’s one particular character in my fantasy series, Sandman Chronicles, that says things that could be seen as offensive and in some instances they should be, because make no mistake, he wants to offend, he wants to hurt those around him, push them away. Given his tragic backstory, who can blame him?
As in reality, there will be some readers out there who won’t acccept that as an excuse, neither will they accept that his words and actions in no way reflect my own. They might read what he says and think, ‘surely the person who wrote that thinks that way.’
As the writer, I wholeheartedly disagree.
The characters in my book series Sandman Chronicles are very much alive, if only inside my mind, which might sound a little crazy, if it’s PC to say that, but they do what they do, they say what they say, just as I know when something for them is very much out of character. For instance, Lucash would never betray his sister Lillith, no matter what, not even if he fell in love would he turn against his sister.
So you might read about him and think he’s a really bad guy, and maybe you’re right and maybe you can’t believe he would say the things he says, neither can I, and in a eutopian society no one would say them, but as Kaigio would say, and believe me he will, ‘people aren’t bad or good, they aren’t black or white, they aren’t darkness or light. People are kaleidoscopes of colour, that change and shift, people aren’t static, our moods change, our thoughts, feelings, opinions, beliefs, they alter with age and time and influence. We are complex. Our characters are complex.
In recent years there has been a lot of “policing” of people’s words and yes, as bizarre and Orwellian as it sounds, even in some cases their thoughts.
I don’t believe it is a person’s right to offend someone, it is however their right to speak and think as they wish, but where do you draw the line?
There are 8 billion people in the world, surely somewhere, someone will be offended by something.
All the -isms and -phobias are wrong. Just so we’re clear, and because they are morally and legally wrong, they make very good weapons. If you really want to hurt someone without getting physical, what do you do? Fall back on playground insults with added politically charged bilge. People in the real world do it and so do people in the fantasy world.
I bet if you tried, and it might not be that hard, you could think of at least one person you know, it could be a work colleague, a friend, even your partner, who might have said something offensive, even if no one else was around to hear it.
And if you can’t think of anyone or you’re the kind of person who has never ever, not even once said or thought something offensive to or about anyone, then, you’re living in that Utopian dream. If only we were all as fortunate.
And as much as we, the respectful and accepting people wished that ignorance and intolerance didn’t exist. It does.
So how, as a writer, do I control my characters? The answer is simple, I don’t. But luckily there are other characters who, as in the real world, don’t tolerate their bullshit. They are the voice of reason, tolerance, acceptance and respect, but even so they themselves can be wrong in other ways.
Like I said, kaleidoscopes.