Author’s philosophy verses character’s

Philosophies:

Characters in novels say and do many different things.
Authors may or may not have the same values as the characters they create.
There may be a character that most reflects the author’s own philosophies but doesn’t entirely demonstrate the exact same beliefs as the author. And there may be characters that don’t demonstrate or reflect the author’s opinions at all.

During one of the critique sessions of my local writing group, a writer commented on the actions that the counselor took in my story by saying, “That is so rude!” She was implying that I should re-write the scene because the counselor acted rudely to a student.

My response to this type of critique is: “So what? That’s the way I wrote it.” I know that the character is acting rudely. That’s the point. The rude behavior should make the readers wonder why the character is acting in such an un-characteristic manner.

I don’t believe that every “good character” in a story needs to always behave nicely. Conflict drives stories. So it’s alright to have characters creating conflict through their behavior. It just has to be motivated well enough to appear realistic.

If a character is nothing more than a mouth-piece for the author to expound philosophies, then that character won’t appear real. He may seem like a caricature; just a symbol for a real person.

Yet, it is ok to have a character express a philosophy of life that the author agrees with.

The theme of a novel may be the message that the author wants to say about life. If the theme is a lie, then the novel suffers, I think. Ultimately, a novel is communicating a message that the author believes to be true.

In my novel, The Smart Kid, the student and counselor are having a conversation while watching a gymnastics meet. The student is the character that is expressing his philosophy of life. He quotes four sources: two Bible verses from Ecclesiastes, a Beach Boys song, and a bumper-sticker type of quote (which we today would see as an online meme.)

One of the Bible verses is the well-known phrase “All life is vanity.”
The student quotes it because it mirrors something that the counselor said. But he’s neutral as to whether he really believes it.

Another verse says that your life won’t be remembered in a generation or two. The student seems to believe that this is true, but doesn’t explicitly say so.

The Beach Boys song says that some people just want to have fun until Daddy takes the T-Bird away. And the bumper sticker says, “The person who dies with the most toys wins.” The student quotes the song and the bumper sticker to contrast his view. He implies that he doesn’t believe these philosophies.

So what is the student’s over-riding, main belief? He never says, until twenty-eight chapters later. After the story demonstrates how he lives, he directly expresses his opinion. It may not have even been necessary at that point in the story.

But the point is that, when my main character is expressing exactly what I
believe, it is done incrementally, in disparate parts, to avoid sounding preachy.

Whether or not I’ve achieved the goal of not preaching, but still expressing my philosophy through the theme of the novel is up to the reader to judge.

That’s my philosophy of characters expressing their philosophies.


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