Author v. character…

When an author writes her or his novel and opinions are expressed, readers might pause and ask, “Is this the author’s opinion or the character’s?” Here’s the danger: a reader might quote an author and say s/he supports a position when s/he really doesn’t! In today’s politically charged and toxic environment, that might create a PR and marketing nightmare. It could also be a matter of life and death in a country where opinions contrary to the regime aren’t allowed. Or where a religious majority is intent on stomping out heretics. (Sometimes a country can have both, of course.)

An author living in a more enlightened country that considers free speech to be a right can write what s/he wants, the argument being that the reader doesn’t have to read it if it seems disagreeable. (That implies censorship of any kind is questionable, of course.) It’s still a good idea, though, to make sure your opinions expressed in narrative not associated with a character, often written in the omniscient point of view (POV)—sci-fi world building, for example—are wants you want to be associated with. Otherwise, put them in a character’s POV so that character owns them, not you.

That sounds a bit sneaky, I know. And beware: this only works in fiction! There remains a danger even so: the reader might identify you, the author, with one character, especially if that character is using the first person singular. I don’t always agree with Detective Castilblanco, for example, but he’s in first person in the entire “Detectives Chen and Castilblanco Series”!

Readers might also question themes. For example, the illegal sale of stolen art is a theme in The Collector and the soon-to-be-released Rembrandt’s Angel, but that’s neither the most important theme in those novels nor a major concern of mine. In both cases, what the sale of that stolen art is financing is more important.

I apologize for using my own novels as examples, but I know them intimately, of course. Most of my novels have non-trivial themes. The reader shouldn’t conclude that these are at the top of my list or the ones I’m most concerned about. But themes are useful in fiction. Woven through and around the plot, they make an ordinary story into an extraordinary one, putting meat on the bones of a bare skeleton, as it were. Maybe not every reader will say, “Geez, I never thought about that in that way,” but if one does, I have achieved something positive.

And because most themes involving issues are complex—a lot of gray instead of black and white—creating characters who hold different opinions about them reflects real life. To paraphrase Clancy, fiction must seem real, and there is nothing more real than describing two characters debating issues. Of course, all that has to fit seamlessly into the story.

More importantly perhaps is that characters still work together even though they don’t agree. Detective Chen and Castilblanco are yin and yang on many issues, Chen being more conservative and Castilblanco more progressive. Anyone who’s seen disasters occur when some policy has been enacted too fast knows there’s a place for conservatism. Anyone who’s seen bad policies stay in effect even though they adversely affect people knows that a progressive change can have positive benefits. Many examples abound in the real world.

The two detectives show people leaning one way or the other can come together to solve major problems—in their case, collaring the homicidal perps. The crime-fighting duo also shows that moral fiber can and should trump political and cultural biases. Problems are solved when people work together. Not doing the latter can lead to failures.

But back to the main theme: there is a lot more to writing meaningful fiction than just telling a story. Better said: stories are good when they are meaningful. Aesop’s fables with their moral s are profound in that sense; so are many fairy tales. A lot of modern fiction isn’t. I try to avoid authors who write trivial stories or trivialize important issues—that’s being unfair to readers. But I’m always watchful as a reader that I don’t conclude an author believes something just because her or his character does. That’s being unfair to the author. Like most themes, this one is complex too. Writing and reading are complex pastimes…and should be.


Action on the southern border! No, it’s not Trump beginning the construction of The Wall. It’s Chen and Castilblanco fighting terrorists, a cartel, and neo-Nazi militias. In Angels Need Not Apply, this deadly duo from the “Detectives Chen and Castilblanco Series” go undercover to fight crime as part of a national task force. On sale now at Smashwords until March 31—use coupon # KL38P on checkout. You can also purchase there the recently published 7th book in the series, Gaia and the Goliaths. The entire series is available in all ebook formats on Smashwords, and you can also find the ebooks on all the sites of its associated retailers (Apple, B&N, Kobo, etc) and lenders (Overdrive, etc). You can also find all the ebooks on Amazon.

In libris libertas!

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