Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Does your book have values?

I've been thinking a lot about values this week; about what I value and about what other people value.  I believe that knowing what you truly value is essential to making good choices, about work and about people.    It dictates your work, your alliances, what you wear, where you live and what you buy.

Or does it?

Maybe I just think that because I value values.


Anyway, my musings led me to this....

...do my values infuse my writing?  Do my heroes and heroines behave congruently with my values or do I write their values?  Is it possible to write a hero or heroine that you don't identify with in some way shape or form? 

Weirdly, I wasn't sure.  I think my characters are informed by my values, but in a way I think that this is lazy writing.  Perhaps if I got to know my characters better before jumping in with telling their story, I would know them better and write them different. Or perhaps I just wouldn't be mentally hanging out with characters which were far removed from what I value.

What about other authors?

In prolific authors, I think it's possible to find a kind of pattern in the values of their key characters.  Georgette Heyer's heroines are often pragmatic, intelligent and relatively selfless.  Even the spoilt heiresses, like Barbara Childe, who declare themselves to be selfish are prone to acts of heroism and self sacrifice.

Sherilyn Kenyon's heroes tend to be screwed up but resilient; survivors of some sort of incident or abuse that has left them black around the edges but with a hidden nugget of gold.  Trust is a big thing in her books, and learning to live again.

But before I got too carried away with this, I got stuck on George RR Martin.  Damn.  I'm nearing the end of  book two of A Song of Fire and Ice.  He's good.  He's better than good, he's gripping.  His plots twist and turn but are perfectly foreshadowed.  His characters are three dimensional and leap from the page.  Author-wise he's the one to beat.

It's all about the dragons I tells ya

But his thematic values?  God knows.  Each chapter is told from the point of view of a different character. Each character is markedly different.  Cersei is cold, ambitious, fearless and brave.  Tyrion is protective, wise, pragmatic and cunning.  Ned is loyal, selfless, dutiful and loving.  No two are the same.  There are no black and white heroes or villains:  once inside the mindset of each you can sympathise with them all.  They are real in every shade of grey (not just fifty) imaginable.

Is this the sign of a truly great writer - to be led by his characters, not to lead them?  To have 31 different heroes and heroines, each sympathetic, frustrating, lovable and despicable by turns?


Bullish said...

This is a great post to chew on, Meg! I know that the characters who have values that differ from mine are often fun to write - freeing in a way, less hampered by social mores.

But on the flip side, I do have a certain amount of concern that realizing and writing these characters may put me in direct opposition with my own values - that concern stems from readers wrongly assuming that I condone certain behaviors, values, etc.

For example, this weekend, when I wrote a short story about a queen beheading rebels, I was tempted to strike that passage, for fear it would (1) make her seem heartless (2) that I condoned barbaric bahvior. But in the end, I went with my writer's gut, as I usually do, and I'm pleased with the story.

On the whole, my characters carry traces of my personal strength and hope - they cannot escape that, poor dears, but I try to let them posses their values as well - those dictated by what they need to make it through their story arc!


Meg McNulty said...

Thanks Lady B, interesting to think about isn't it? I so know what you mean about worrying that the actions of your characters reflect your own beliefs.

I think moving outside your values comfort zone could be quite liberating as a writer. I'm going to try and think some more about that.

Holly said...

Love this post. So much to think about. I think the answer to: "Is this the sign of a truly great writer - to be led by his characters, not to lead them?" Is definitely YES YES a thousand times YES. I wish I had this skill.

Another point to consider might be whether your characters can have different values to those projected by your narrative in other ways to characterisation. I spend a lot of time (too much probs) thinking about the values that are overarching in my stories. I don't think my characters are even aware of these values or the concepts of them. But they are important to me and so they are there. I hope I can learn to make these nicely subtextual and utilise my characters for my values, but not have my characters necessarily hold those values. Does that make sense? I think I'm rambling...

I like your blog.