One thing that always jumps out at me when I consume any type of narrative art is that there is always something with which I don’t agree. Whether it’s a character who is *problematic*, a viewpoint expressed that I think is ridiculous, or relationships between characters that seem toxic, it pops up almost every single time I read, watch, or listen to a book, movie, T.V. show, or podcast.
Often, it makes me wonder about the person who created the thing that I am consuming. Is this indicative of their innermost thoughts and feelings? Do they hold the beliefs they are conveying through their characters or narrative? Did they feel that what they wrote was acceptable? Does this creative believe anything in their work, or is it just an expression of an idea that was cooked up in their brain?
Let me say this:
Life is about nuance. Most everything is gray, not black and white. That’s because humans are imperfect beings who are able to change and adapt. Once a bad person, a human can become good, and vice versa. Someone who does something bad in the moment is not necessarily a Bad Person. The same can be said for someone who does something good.
It is said that a person who dies committing a good act will be admitted to Heaven. One who dies committing a bad act will be sent straight to Hell. At the end of days, when all is said and done, God will open his book and cast a final determination on all souls. Those who lived a great life but did the bad thing will be brought up to Heaven. The bad person who did a good deed will be cast down to Hell. All people will be judged on the entirety of their life–not just one act. Balance will made.
I don’t know if I believe any of that, but whether it’s true or not proves that a person–a life–must be examined as a whole.
Don’t get me wrong–Nazis are bad. Racism is bad. Rape is bad. There are many things a person might say or do that might automatically and permanently get them labeled as “bad.”
But what about theft? Is theft bad? If a person steals to feed their family…where is the crime? A person goes against morals and ethics so that others do not starve–who is the criminal? The thief, or a society that creates thieves? If a person once stole to keep their family healthy…are they a bad person forever? Were they ever really bad?
If a person insults another in the heat of an argument, are they bad?
If a wife/husband commits adultery during a particularly rough patch in their marriage…are they bad?
These thoughts make me consider my stories and my characters quite often. Much of the time, I am not writing with my voice, but the voice of the character I have created. See, my characters are not me. They are not possessed with my thoughts, feelings, morals, and beliefs. They are their own “people.” Their way of living is not Chase Connor’s way of living.
When I write a story, I’m not endorsing a way of life–I am describing one.
I can’t speak for other authors, but I can speak for myself–I am not advocating that anyone behave, feel, think, or believe a certain way. A story idea and the characters that comprise that story manifest in some magical way in my brain, and I tell the story. My job as the author is simply to tell the story. At best, I tell it in a way that makes the readers consider which, if any, moral can be found in the story.
I write to not just tell a story, but to make readers think.
The best stories do not leave a reader’s consciousness upon closing the book. Hopefully, for days, weeks–or even longer–after the story is read, the reader is left to ponder how they feel, whether they agree, and what they would have done in the same situation. A great story makes a reader think critically, to become more empathetic, and be more open-minded. The best stories inspire readers to create change in their lives. This is not always achieved with characters comprised of puppy dogs and rainbows, either.
So, does everything I write reflect my own beliefs? Absolutely not. I can honestly say that in many scenes found in my stories, Chase Connor would react much differently than his characters. (It’s okay that I am writing about myself in third person since I use a pen name. Promise.)
I’m not as patient, understanding, and kind as some of my characters. Neither am I as cruel and mean-spirited as others. I’ve rarely followed a clear path in life, knowing where one event would lead or what was coming next. My life has been a series of twists and turns, “what the fucks” and “well, I’ll be damneds.” Like almost everyone else, I kind of make things up as I go. Life is like that.
If every situation we encountered in life had solutions that were black and white, it would be much easier. If people could clearly be labeled “good” and “bad,” life would be easier. But there’s more “gray” than anything. For the most part, we all make our choices, hoping they’re right, hoping that what we won’t totally screw everything up and we won’t be labeled as a bad person. Characters in a story should be allowed the privilege as well.
The next time you open a book or turn on the television, remember that stories are open to interpretation. A way of life is being described, not endorsed, and keep your mind open to consider everything that is presented to you. You might just be surprised with how that changes your life.
For all my fellow writers out there–do your absolute best to change the world for the better through your art. But don’t be afraid to tell a story that needs to be told simply because someone somewhere might have a problem with it.
Tremendous Love & Thanks,