How not to use your character as a mouthpiece

Čt 11 února 2021

(my contribution on the thread “Using your character as a mouth piece” by Snoo)

If you are interested in the theory of writing, then I have to suggest to you two very obscure and old books (yes, old books are quite often better than the new ones): “The Mind of the Maker” by Dorothy L. Sayers (yes, the author of detective stories with Lord Peter Wimsey, so she knew one or two things about writing) and “How Not to Write a Play” by Walter Kerr (he was the chief theatre critic of The New York Times long time ago). The first one is probably very hard to digest for some (it uses the analogy with the Trinitarian Theology), so let me summarize what I mean:

Every story should be about how the hero got from A to B: how a young abused orphaned boy found his way to find peaceful and loving life while defeating the worst wizard of his times; how the young Danish prince found the courage to revenge the murder of his own father; how a boy and a girl from two families which hated each other found love and finally were killed by that hatred. There are some requirements for the good story I described in the linked blog post (using the Kerr’s theory; namely, it shouldn’t skip the story itself as many fanfics do), but there is also more: the hero has to get there on his/her own, the author cannot pull him there against his will and powers. That’s the clear sign of problems with writing, when suddenly characters start to behave like an idiots just to keep the plot together: all characters have to get from A to B because of their own decision, ruled by their own decisions, not because the author needs to make them these decisions.

Subset of this problem is when not only heroes of a story behave out of their character, but even worse when their behaviour is driven by the author’s opinions more than by their intrinsic decisions. Juliet is not in love with Romeo because she would be in love with him, but because she needs to show how it is bad to marry as a teenager (and thus making bad decisions, as teenagers do); Hamlet doesn’t struggle with his path to kill the ruling king, because of moral problems, but because he wants to preach to us how his mother is just a tool in the misogynistic world. And yes, somebody mentioned “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand, which is an horrible example of the sermon on extreme individualism pretending to be a novel. Or even worse, when in every other Indy!Harry story, a reader suspects his not behaving out of his own heart, but because the author wants him to preach the author’s relational problems with his father (while shouting at Dumbledore).

And yes, every books has a message, but see for example “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury (one of the best short novels of all times, I believe). It has a message as well, but first it is rather complicated to say what the message really is and to be honest to the story. More importantly though, heroes of the story never shout out the message to us (actually, the main hero of the story works most of the time professionally against the message), you are just lead to find it on your own.

Category: literature Tagged: harryPotter blogComment