8.23.2016

Not Your Views

The novelty of writing a novel places a beginner at one end of an uncertain bridge. The act of imagining you’re someone else means that you cross an unseen divide in an unknown direction. In the end you are supposed to achieve the merger of author and character.

How well this is accomplished is affected by a primary quality that all authors need to possess: a big ego. You wouldn’t be writing if you didn’t think, on some level, you have a fantastic gift to offer. Yet a big ego entails being full of yourself, and that may not fill up your characters as much as allow you to do what you’d do normally—proclaim your beliefs. In this case, not to a cocktail party guest but to a reading audience.

The intrusion of an author into the narrative occurs most often when a character provides his opinion on what’s going on. It’s supposed to be a deeper dive, into the mind of the character. What I see with regularity, however, is this type of thinking: The character is really me; I can spout off about anything I want. So some pet insight about race relations, or what have you, goes in the book. Not only that, but in order to limn in all of the nuances of your complex position, the harangue can go on for a page or more. The book stops short. The reader starts to nod off. Worst of all, the “speech” doesn’t even line up with the character’s actions in other parts of the book.

Giving political opinions is the lowest dive, in this humble editor’s opinion. I won’t go into how tired I am of elections in America. Instead I’ll merely point out that no nonfiction opinion breaks your fictional spell faster than a rant about politics. Plus, a reader may not read the book until several years after it is written. Will anyone care less about your Trump/Obama/Bush impersonator then?

When you inject your personal opinions into a novel, you’re showing how far across that bridge to your character you still have to go. The character isn’t you, or the book would be boring. It’s hard work to create someone that captivates a reader. So, get over yourself. Make sure that what the character thinks is really clever and unique.

Exercise: Review the manuscript solely for a selected character’s thoughts. When you locate each one, stop and consider: What have I written about her so far? Does all of that line up with the thought here? Even better, ask yourself: how could I make this thought add to what I’ve already portrayed about her?

“Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”
—John F. Kennedy

Copyright @ 2016, John Paine

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