chewing ideas down to stubble, then moving on…

I wonder…

Posted by Jason on November 6, 2008

…how many authors expound their insane ideas about the world through “fictional” characters that mirror their own thinking? Can a writer say things through a fictional proxy that he/she cannot or should not say in the real world? If so, to what extent?

Take Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, for instance. The main character, Billy Pilgrim, is an American POW who witnesses the firebombing of Dresden, just like the author. However, the protagonist also experiences time/space travel as a result of an alien abduction. What if Vonnegut really believed in these ideas, and maybe even shares those zany experiences with Billy Pilgrim? Did Salinger really view the world as a “bunch of phonies” and get away with such juvenile paranoia by using Holden Caulfield as an intellectual money-launderer? 

I don’t think fiction writers receive carte-blanche when writing their novels. There are tons of authors that have been exiled or blacklisted on account of their work, but it’s mostly for political stuff, right? A lot of times, we like to imagine that the heroes in some of our books could be somewhat autobiographical portraits, but what if the author injects most of his/her personality into the villains? Would we look at our favorite authors differently then?

But when you start reading about different authors’ processes and how they say characters just take over the book and it begins to write itself, that brings up another question. To what extent should authors be responsible for dumb/irresponsible/insensitive/horrific things that their characters do or say?

To Be Continued…


3 Responses to “I wonder…”

  1. Rach said

    You’re smart…and that is why I read your blog. 😉

  2. godshouldnthave said

    Be careful here. Talking about this could get a lot of people killed!
    Well not killed, but overly exposed for the dangerous geniuses, rebels, and philosophers they are.

    Many fictional characters with controversial natures are deliberately chiseled with a sharp guise of impartial creative defiance. Intelligent author’s are very careful to wrap their messages in a super secret wrapping paper. This shiny paper has codes, large words, metaphors, symbolism, and is covered in content that soars high above the fifth grade reading level. This is how one can communicate with OTHER humans riding the philosophical, scientific, artistic, and religious wave of progress without overly jeopardizing their “oh-so-neutral-fictionalist” in this society image.

    The beautifully ignorant masses do not want cancerous messages to be growing around in their seemingly uniform petri dish. So I subscribe to a school of thought that suggests communicating in a very non-linear fashion. Fly low under the radar.

    Protecting yourself while still getting your message out is actually a much more effective way to “reach” your target pupils. If the teacher goes to jail, or has his typewriter dropped on him, he can only spread blood stains and silence. This is not a practice of cowardice. This is an evolutionary tactic of longevity and necessity.

    Perhaps you should make your blog posts more fictional character based! Just be more clever than giving your main character some not-so-incognito initials like mister Steinbeck’s Jim Casey.

    On the subject of accountability:
    Authors are most certainly responsible for the effect of their characters on the world.
    But one should afford them both the negative and positive reactions.
    The authors bought their ticket. They at least mildly know the risks of releasing their infectious sentences upon the herd. Now whether they are demeaned, judged, or persecuted for such expression is an entirely different subject.

    You must first agree on and admit to a society that fears sectors or factions of expression. Thus formalizing the boundaries. Our current set of boundaries is a scribbled outside the lines, conveniently fluid, and morally ambiguous figment of poorly regurgitated dogma. If solid rules to the game are formed, and authors deliberately violate these agreed upon rules…then by all means ostracize them. Send them packing and they can go form their own society. But such boundaries would require too much ACTUAL commitment morally from our systems of hope and control for them to ever be agreed upon.

    Ha! My comment is longer than your post. I have added more content to the very subject that I just warned you about adding content to!

    Nihilism walks into a bar…and doesn’t even care.


  3. Jason said

    So maybe if I (hypothetically of course) had a secret belief that everyone other than me is an idiot, I should create a character in one of my novels (it must be a villain; they’ll never suspect!) who thinks he/she is the smartest person on the planet. And then I must create some flaws through which your average reader can see this villain’s obvious stupidity. This will make the entire world feel much better and more validated about me calling them stupid…I like it.

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