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  1. Gallowglass

    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

    May 2, 2009
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    Loch na Seilg, Alba

    Should a writer ever need to mitigate their characters?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Gallowglass, May 4, 2013.

    This is something I've been wondering for a long time but only now, upon receipt of a particularly heavy-handed bit of criticism, have I felt the need to ask: should a writer ever need to lessen some unpleasant trait in their characters - that they feel necessary to that character's realisation and place in the plot - to ease the discomfort of readers? I'm talking about characters that are obnoxiously racist/misogynistic, but another traits society regards as repellent can come in here to. If readers say that the character makes them uncomfortable to the point of skimming through their scenes or putting the book down altogether, should that character be altered?
  2. Suffering-is-Beauty

    Suffering-is-Beauty Member

    Mar 18, 2013
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    It's amazing what you can hide in vocabulary, and the english language is vast and colorful. perhaps try to use other words to say what you want to say. you might find a more poetic way to say the things you want without using the words that offend people so. if that doesn't work and you find people are still putting your book down you only have two options. change so that people will buy your book, or accept the fact that people arn't going to read it.
  3. mammamaia

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Nov 21, 2006
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    Coquille, Oregon
    that's way too broad a question...

    of course some writers may feel such a need... whether the act is justified or not depends on their own reasons for doing so...

    so, there's no one-size-fits-all answer to what you're asking...
    1 person likes this.
  4. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Mar 3, 2013
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    Ralph's side of the island.
    I've found that people reviewing single chapters of my book don't always don't see the full picture of a character, place or scene. Sometimes it's because they haven't read the previous chapters, sometimes its because I failed to convey the scene well, sometimes it's because they want the story to be something it is not, and usually it's a combination.

    In the last chapter I had reviewed, readers thought the scene was in a women's prison and expected all the wrong things. It wasn't that kind of prison, the women weren't criminals. While the critiquers didn't know that just reading a single chapter, I also needed to flesh it out more in the story.

    You need to pin down the problem more precisely. You could have simply over-written the character. Less is often better. Or readers don't quite know the role the character is playing. Maybe the readers are looking for a more complicated villain. If this is a main character, you may not want him to be one dimensional. If he's a got a bit part, one dimensional is OK.

    If a reader is skipping an important component of your story, maybe it's just not their kind of book.

    Until I hear more, I'm going to go with: You could have simply over-written the character. Less is often better. Rather than too awful, perhaps the scene is too tedious or slow.
  5. suddenly BANSHEES

    suddenly BANSHEES Contributing Member

    Apr 27, 2011
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    Phoenix, AZ
    I think it depends on the context. Is this a character we are supposed to root for? If their views don't change over time, is the reader supposed to forgive them for these flaws for some reason? Are there consequences for their actions?
  6. peachalulu

    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

    May 20, 2012
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    occasionally Oz , mainly Canada
    I'm on the fence. I've been reading some books where I feel the author has a political angle in making all her villians spout racist
    terms, misogynist and derogitory comments and all the heros speak like politically correct robots. The world isn't that clear cut.
    Take In the Heat of the Night - Gillespie starts out as a racist but by the end he respects Tibbs however the veiwer wonders
    has his view on all black people changed? Maybe, maybe not but it's a start.

    I'm not sure if you're talking about your hero is the obnoxious racist or the villian or
    what their journey in the book is, or what the environment of the story is ( like given the territory anything less would seem phony. ) Myself, I'll tone
    down comments and avoid certain words specifically because I find them offensive. I want it to be clear who my character but I don't
    want to cross a line I set for myself for the sake of 'realism'. For me I'd rather have a potent few words or a clear-cut
    scene than a continous stream of sour behavior.
  7. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

    Dec 30, 2010
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    Depends if there's a point to why the character is so vilely unpleasant. If there's a point to it, or some sort of restoration of character and a lesson learnt at the end, readers can forgive a lot. If the character is unpleasant for the sake of being unpleasant, then you may want to question why you want such a character in the first place, and perhaps whether it's so important that it's worth losing the agents and readers who will inevitably be offended and therefore skim/skip or never buy your books ever again.

    But then again, think of Lolita or American Psycho (neither of which I've read hahaha but I know one's about a paedophile and the other's a psycho). Depends. Also you may want to ask yourself if you're comfortable letting people read the message you're inevitably conveying through this vile character - are you comfortable with the moral aspects of leading people into thinking these things, perhaps even making them see and agree with your vile character? We have a moral responsibility when we write, I believe, and only you can know whether you feel comfortable with it.
  8. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Mar 9, 2010
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    I think that in part it depends on why the characters behave that way, and if they're realistic characters. I've occasionally seen characters that seem to be an expression of the writer's extreme emotions, rather than a believable character. They might be a protagonist that's acting out the writer's anger or extreme-behavior fantasies, or an antagonist that's acting out the writer's impression of a person or class of people that he hates. If so, then they probably need to go or change until they're realistic.

    If they are a realistic character, but they're extreme, I think that there needs to be a plot reason for that character to be there - if they are once again _just_ there to allow the writer to express his feelings about particular people or behaviors, and they don't mesh into the main plot or seem like a logical part of the setting, then once again they may need to go, or the plot may need to change so that they make sense.
  9. TerraIncognita

    TerraIncognita Aggressively Nice Person Contributor

    May 28, 2010
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    These are both good points.

    I think every character will probably make someone somewhere uncomfortable. I don't think it's realistic to believe you can make a character who is completely and totally politically and morally correct at all times. Make your characters like real people. Real people typically have strong motivations for any extreme behavior.
  10. sanco

    sanco Contributing Member

    Mar 4, 2013
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    The english language is vast enough for you to find a way of suger-coating something nasty, but then you'd probably be sacrificing characterisation and realism just for a reader to not feel offended. I mean, it would be ridiculous for a black gang-banger from South Central LA to pull out a Shakespearean insult and call someone a "bawdy fly-bitten whey-face" instead of a "nappy-headed bitch nigga". Although it would be kind of interesting lol. But this is where context, setting and character determine what comes out of your character's mouth.

    Generally, it'd be safer to leave all the nasty characteristics for the villain or the characters that you want the reader to hate, but as Terra said, real people have flaws and your characters should reflect real people.
  11. traceymcl

    traceymcl Member

    Apr 26, 2013
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    I am watching my way through the TV series The Wire just now. Many of the characters - both the police and the career criminals they try to catch - frequently speak and act in ways that I find offensive. Almost all of the male characters treat women horribly and sometimes I find myself feeling uncomfortable while watching it. Still, I'm kind of hooked. The characters might not be nice or comfortable but they are compelling and the world the inhabit is fascinating. So I'm still watching lots of it.

  12. mbinks89

    mbinks89 Active Member

    Nov 14, 2012
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    I'd say go for it. That stuff exists in reality. If characters who adhere to those traits exist in your imagination too, write them into existence. It's only bad in my opinion when you write stuff for the purpose of perpetuating/inciting hatred. (eg. Mein Kempf)

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