Sunday, February 20, 2011

But I Didn't Say That

by Leann Sweeney

I get plenty of emails from readers and most of them are very nice. I'd say 99%, in fact. Seems the world knows, for the most part, that if you can't say something nice ...

But this week I got a strange one. The person who wrote felt that they "had" to write and tell me that they were reading one of my books when were totally shocked and dismayed. It had to do with a piece of dialogue and then the emailer said, "Why did you have to say that?" She went on to explain that because "I" said that, she will never read another book I write.

And that got me to thinking. I am well aware that not everyone likes every book. We have books we love and books we hate and books we could care less about. But it was her phrasing that got to me. This person has confused me with a character in my book. That particular phrase is something I don't think I have ever used in real life conversation. (And I'm not going to repeat it here for fear of incurring more wrath!)

Yes, my characters are separate from me. They have different views than I do. Their flaws and strengths are not mine. Their language and phrasing belong to them, not to me. I replied to this person and said I was sorry they felt offended, but that this was the character's choice of words. I add that certainly just because I write about murder and a few of my characters commit murder that doesn't make me a murderer, either--which, by the way, would seem a lot worse than a snippet of dialogue. :-)

What do you think about this? Can you separate author from fictional characters who are sometimes not very nice?

All in all, it was an interesting email, one that I found more amusing than some mean reviews I've gotten!

37 comments:

hatfieldtiffany75 said...

For starters, it's a book. The whole reason we read a book is to be creative and imaginative with what our authors have given us. Maybe they should have a saying (maybe they do or maybe I can take credit for inventing it, LOL, wishful thinking) Don't judge an author by their book!!

I really don't see any point in sending an email to an author saying that I don't like their book and I am never buying it again. I find it rude and offensive. There are ways to talk (email) people if you want them to hear (read) what you have to say and it is called constructive critisism. Some take it well, others don't but there are still polite ways of handling it.

kelinkc said...

Leann, As a reader, I do believe that for some it may difficult to keep an author and her characters separate from one another. I have always assumed that there are at least bits and pieces of an author's personality, characteristics, beliefs, etc. that come across through her characters. That being said, I don't believe that any author writes characters that are exactly like themselves nor would I ever accuse an author of actually being the character. If anything, I believe a lot of authors write characters that they would like to be like or characters that are complete opposites of their own personality. Ultimately, though, the author and the characters are separate: the author is a real person and the characters are made up - how can you confuse real from make-believe?

Melanie said...

It amazes me that there are really people out there who can't tell the difference between the author and a character. However, having said that, you see all the time where people get actors confused with their characters so it is possible. I guess it has to start with someone letting these people know this is fiction and the people are make believe. Once they get that clear, then they might be able to read it without the confusion. I'm sorry you had an email like that. A grown woman saying something like that to you is ridiculous. Be safe..people like this are also nutty enough to do some really dangerous things.

Min said...

I can tell the difference between a character and the author.

However, it DOES bother me when there are things in the narrative that I find offensive if the book is told in third person because then the book isn't told from the character's POV, and then I have reason to believe that the author is letting her/his opinions, perspective, etc. colour the narrative.

For instance, in a book I recently read, a secondary Asian character was constantly referred to as "Oriental." As an Asian, this constantly made me cringe, and I nearly didn't finish reading it. As this is a series I enjoy, I was, tempted to write to the author to (nicely) ask if she was aware that "Oriental" is an antiquated and derogatory term when used to refer to Asian people. (Items are Oriental, and people are not items... especially not female people.)

Aurian said...

Yes, of course I can seperate the author from the things her characters say or do! For instance, I cannot imagine Bertrice Small to do all the sexual acts she writes about. But wouldn't it be great if all the witches and weres and vamps and such were real? Life would be a lot more interesting and dangerous. But of course a hero would save us all.

LORNA BARRETT (aka Lorraine Bartlett) said...

I'm amazed when readers ask me, "Is there any swearing in this book?" I'm careful how I answer that question. If Tricia, Angelica, or Katie uses a curse word, you know there had better be a good reason for it.

Murderers are usually pretty vile people. They don't go around saying, "Gosh darnit I will kill you." Their language is liable to be a LOT stronger.

My books are NOT full of swearing, but if a nasty character says something blue it says something about his or her character, not mine as the author.

Ellery Adams said...

The trust is that books wouldn't be very compelling without a string antagonist. If you received that email, it's really a compliment about how well you wrote your antagonist. That person was so real that they offended a reader. Kudos to you, Leann, for creating a character so multi-dimensional that they got under someone's skin. We don't read books to be numb, but to FEEL something.

Ellery Adams said...

Oops, I meant to say "The truth is"

Not enough coffee...

Leann Sweeney said...

For me, this is a very interesting conversation. Thanks for the viewpoints. Maybe I am just seasoning out as I become a "veteran" writer, but the email was more interesting than offensive. I know I'm going to make some people upset. Murder and crimes against humans and pets should invoke emotion. So yes, Ellery, I guess I am doing my job. I just don't like losing readers. Too bad about that!

NoraA said...

I have to wonder whether this person is off their meds. Sorry, that's just me. LOL

vp chandler said...

I confront this issue in my writing too. I don't want to put swear words in but I have to make the characters believeable. A construction worker who smashes his finger isn't going to say, "Oh...sugar!" But if great-aunt Mildred stubs her toe, she probably would. I just try to write the best story I can.

Leann Sweeney said...

Nora, you are too funny, and yes vp, as writers we do have to be true to the characters. But there will always be someone who is unhappy with the way we do that. It is the nature of the beast, I guess!

Mare F said...

I don't have a problem seperating authors from their characters. I would think that it would be fairly obvious that if one person is writing a story concerning several characters that there must be conversations and actions that don't reflect the author or the characters would all be the same and quite boring. I'm not sure if that made sense, but really if you are fleshing out numerous characters, unless you are a certified schizophrenic then you are going to go outside of your personality to create your people. It is an interesting situation.

Rita B said...

I can't beleive that in this day and age there are so meny people out there that are so 'simple minded' to think the author and the charactor are one and the same. People wake up!!! It's fiction for pitty sake!!! I sure hope I am not reading true life. For this meny "murders" to take place would be too sad. And just think how sick those of us who enjoy reading about them would have to be!! Writers ... just concider the source and forget it. We who read fiction understand and love it!!

Melissa said...

I agree with the people that have pointed out that this person is a lot like the people who get actors confused with their characters. I also agree that the person may be off of their meds! Seriously, it is hard to believe that any sane, reasonably intelligent person could get a character from a fictional book confused with the author. So, if this person continues to email you, you might want to ignore the rest of them!

And thanks to Min for the lesson on the word Oriental. That's not a word I use much, but I had no idea that it could be used in a way that was offensive. I definitely won't make that mistake.

lynneandco said...

I agree with NoraA...either that or they need some! But, seriously, if someone cannot separate themselves from what they are reading and take something so seriously when it is in a work of FICTION, then they have a problem. Aside from the fact that if you don't like the book, the writing, the characters....well, no one is forcing you to read it! And why do you think you have the right to berate the author because YOU don't like something.
As for me...I love your writing, and realize it is not YOU talking, it is the characters. I love the variety of speech. If all the characters were polite an politically correct...geesh, how boring would that be?!

Tempewytch said...

How very strange! Ah well each to their own I guess

Mandy said...

I can see where she's coming from, but also a killer isn't nice and how believable would that be if they were, it wouldn't. While I'm picky about genres I read, I love it with characters are real. I'm reading a series now where there was more language in the first book than the normal cozies I read, but I put it in perspective with the character in that book. Now on book four, I can't imagine not giving myself the opportunity to enjoy the rest of the series just because of one silly character specific to that one book. Some people are just a little strange!

~ Babs ~ said...

Leeann, I have to agree with Nora she must have forgot to take her meds. I have no problem separating characters from the authors. My goodness does she want a bland book? Authors have to make the characters seem real and like everyone else has said a murderer is not going around town saying,"Golly gee I need to kill someone who shall I pick?" Or "Take that you hooligan you needed to be killed." Who would want to read a character like that? I think you all do a great job with your characters.
Obviously she doesn't read many cozy mysteries or any mystery for that matter.

Cindy Sample said...

One of the best things about fiction, whether it's a mystery or not, is the diversity of the characters, their dialogue, viewpoints and individualized habits. How dull our writing would be if we followed a formulaic script.

Your reader was probably having a bad day, or out of chocolate!

Karen B said...

I have no trouble separating an author from their characters, although sometimes I am surprised at the words that come out of their mouths when it is an author that I've read alot. Now to movies - I know that the actor is not the character he portrays but in Pretty Woman Jason Alexander played a dispicable person and now I cannot watch him in anything. I just feel that he's a creepy little man. Go figure!!

Dru said...

It's a book. It's not real life. Sometimes you do get caught up in the lives of the characters that you're reading but again, it's a work of art that when finished, you're ready for the next one.

BTW, in nine days, I hope you get involved in the lives of Olivia and gang when "A Deadly Cliche" by Ellery Adams becomes available in bookstores and online.

Leann Sweeney said...

This has definitely been an interesting conversation. I hate to lose a reader, but maybe I'll have that "Jason Alexander" effect on this person forever. :-)

And yes! Ellery's book is out soon and she has created an awesome trailer for her book and one for mine that I just put up on my Facebook page. Talented lady, our Ellery/Jennifer Stanley!

Mary Jane Maffini said...

I love this discussion, Leann. I guess it's a measure of how well you pull us into your books that confused this person.

I've had it happen with a reviewer. The issue was with one of my character's politics, which were referred to as 'mine', although they were not. I think I muttered 'Get a life!' but only in the confines of my own home.

It takes all kinds, Leann. I know you will keep your entertaining characters free!

MJ

Sandy said...

Leann,
You have to at least tell us which book it is.. I want to run out and buy it and see if I can find the offending item!

Leann Sweeney said...

I don't want to lost another reader, Sandy! LOL. Okay, it was A Wedding to Die For and really, I think it is the most humorous book I've written.

Kellie Rix said...

Leann,
Oh my! Confusing an author with their characters is a bit much. While at times their may be bits and pieces of the author's charcteristics or likes and dislikes it does not mean that the author is their character. This is fiction. Furthermore, making the relationship with characters to the author, as in how that author truly is, is like saying that that Thomas Harris is truly Hannibal Lecter, which of course he isn't. It is fiction. I agree with Lorna, a murderer is not going to say "Gosh, darn it..." Fiction. Fiction. Fiction. Keep on writing Leann, gosh darnit! Golly gee willikers. LOL

Leann Sweeney said...

Golly gee willikers, Kellie. I'll have to use that one. :-)

Kellie Rix said...

Well, gosh darn it, Leann, you better. LOL

Queen Lizz said...

I have to tell you that I, too, have experienced a similar situation. Being in the theater, it seems that some members of the audience have issues separating the actor from the character. Some of the theaters that I work with have the actors out in the lobby after the shows, for meet and greet sessions. I find it very amusing when someone actually thinks that the motivations of my character are mine, or that their hobbies are also mine. It just boggles the mind...

Leann Sweeney said...

But good acting, Queen Lizz!

Vickie said...

I can keep the characters from the authors if the characters are mean, but I can't do the same when I find out that the author is a pewp-cranium...not that I think you are! You are a sweetie. I am talking about other authors I used to read, but found out they have uber-ego issues and can't handle the bad reviews from the readers who obviously don't know who they are dealing with.....

Anyhoooo....you are the author, your characters are in your cranium and flow to the page for us to enjoy.

Leann Sweeney said...

Whew. I hope I never come across as having a big ego. :-)

Shushan said...

hmm... I find the email very surprising.

Usually if someone REALLY doesn't like what an author did, they just don't buy more of those books...or maybe they might grouse on their Shelfari, Goodreads, or Facebook page.

Actually contacting an artist is usually left for fans, who might find some aspect worrying, but only because they care about the characters &/or the author.

I suspect this person wanted to be a fan but was unhappy with something in particular, and phrased it a lot more strongly than was advisable. I fear the 'boycott' mentality is only too trendy in some circles.

I am sorry it upset this person, Leeann, because I am betting that otherwise they liked your work. ;)

I can see where the cozy genre might get a little more of this type of griping because some are expecting the author will communicate the strong plot, characters etc - without anything much in they way of colorful language (graphic or otherwise.)

Everyone has their own sensitivity lines. A few bad words won't throw some, especially from a serious baddie, but will others.

As an author you need to do what is right for you or it just won't flow. (At least, that's how it works for me.)

Leann Sweeney said...

Yup, Shushan, the characters say what they must say at times. It was an odd little e-mail, that's for sure.

Rural View said...

I'm late to the party, but want to put my two cents worth in. I like a character to sound like a person in that particular situation and area really talks. However, some writers get carried away with profanity. When it's overdone, I see it as lazy writing. It takes language PLUS other aspects of personality and character to portray a person well.
I'm reminded of Coen Brothers movies for example, one of which we walked out of despite George Clooney being in it. No one could utter a phrase without the F-bomb. That's offensive and in that case I blame the writer.

Leann Sweeney said...

I agree, a little profanity goes a long way--especially if you are writing cops (who in real life curse every other word). But my books have very little profanity if at all (in the cat series). This was about something else a character said--NOT ME, a character. But somehow this reader thinks I am that character and those are my views. :-)