Laura Miller on the difference between what a character believes and what an author believes

I find it surprising that this keeps needing pointed out, but I suppose I shouldn’t be given the state of things — especially education. Just because a character says something in a book that is offensive, even if the character is “the good one”, doesn’t mean the author believes or supports it.

Back in the 90s when I was still writing fiction, I wrote an entire book of short stories about awful men (abusers, murders, pedos, rapists, etc) AND their male friends who enable them. I chickened out on publishing it, even though it had been accepted., because I didn’t want THAT book to be my intro to the world of publishing. Now I’m glad I didn’t, in many ways. They weren’t very nuanced. But the book was really about good people who made bad choices based on love, loyalty, obligation, etc.

Sometimes there are shitty things done/said by good people — as we witness daily. I mean, if an author writes four more books, all of which glorify the same offensive things, then you can say you’re on to something. But I support the idea that a good author can create sympathetic people who might say awful thing/make awful choices within the scope of their character.

There’s even a term for it: “drama”.

Why do silly things like this happen? I know some will consider Hilderbrand’s and McQuiston’s obeisance to be a sign that the “toxic drama” that prevails on YA Twitter—in which ambitious reviewers-cum-influencers revile authors for failing to toe extremely fine and perpetually changing lines on race, gender, and other sensitive issues—has spread to the world of commercial adult fiction. It’s not uncommon in those disputes for the critics to make the rookie’s mistake of confusing the statements and feelings of fictional characters with the author herself. This, of course, is nonsense; were fictional characters required to pass purity tests to exist, we’d be left with some pretty bland fiction.

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