Wednesday, September 9, 2009

What does your book say about you?

I am one with my books.

Yesterday TLH blogged about audience -- who is your hoped-for audience, how broad is your appeal, are your beliefs reflected in your work, would you change your story to get a bigger audience (or, to get published at all), etc. And Tabitha commented in response, saying that:
There is no line between my belief and my work. They both come from me and so I see them as one and the same. But that's just me. I don't take issue with others who see things differently. Does that mean all my characters would have to believe what I do? No God no. That would be far too boring. But if the book as a whole really contradicted my essential beliefs about life and love then... well I doubt I would have written it.
This is exactly how I feel. And this is what enters my mind when I think about people reading my novel who have very different philosophies than I do. My book does not contradict my essential beliefs about life, about what is right and wrong, and about what is important in this world. So, what, specifically, does it say about me?

For example, no one thinks that Stephen King in any way advocates the kind of violence that occurs in his books, but his books definitely do reflect some of his underlying beliefs and "deep interests":
These deep interests include how difficult it is--perhaps impossible!--to close Pandora's technobox once it's open. Why, if there is a God, such terrible things happen. The thin line between reality and fantasy, and most of all, the terrible attraction violence sometimes has for fundamentally good people.
(from On Writing)

So, we can read his work and glean some of his feelings about, say, small towns, family, and technology. Some of the writing is "just fiction" and some is really about the author. This, I believe, is as it should be. And, naturally, some people will write books that are more on the side of pure fiction, and some people will write works that are closer to their hearts.

So, what would you think if you read a novel by a friend or family member that clearly revealed a contrary world view? Maybe you already know what that person believes, and so it wouldn't be a shock at all, but I'll admit that I have a knee-jerk tendency to think that people see the world in a similar fashion as I do, and so I can be genuinely surprised that someone disagrees with me on an issue even when I know, objectively, that I hold a minority view. The brain's funny that way.

Would such a novel make you think differently about that person? Or would it just give you more to talk about? Yes, yes, "it depends" on the book, and the particular differing philosophies... but, what do you think? What is your expected and/or hoped-for audience (if you're not writing a book, tell us about your blog audience), and what do you think would be the reaction if someone outside that core audience stumbled upon your writing?

Don't forget to enter this month's fiction contest: make a new genre! Can you come up with something better than the Southern Gothic Medical Murder Mystery or Splatterpunk Chick Lit?


  1. This makes a lot of sense, and I agree. But while my book is me, my characters are not. So I hope my readers will know to separate the person my main character is from the person they think me to be.

    That book shelf from the picture is awesome!

  2. My manuscripts are both me and not me. If I have to walk away from a few, I think at this point I could. Believe me, I'd be sad, as I love what my characters are about, but I could put them aside if necessary.

    What I couldn't put aside are the themes that run throughout: extending dignity to children and validating the "little" life experiences that define us.

    Thanks for following, by the way!

  3. I think so. I think a lot of us goes into our books...but just because we write about something doesn't mean we necessarily are trying to push that view on the world. I would hope anyone who knew me well would know the difference between fiction and reality.

  4. I do try to write about the world as I see it. It is my world and in the same time it is never made up. It's always an integral part of me and I don't see myself as being separated from my work.

  5. i totally think we are what we some way. (i say this b/c some people write things that can't happen in real futuristic zombie thrillers.) my book reflects my own view of things for sure, else, i'm like tabitha, i wouldn't have written it. if i read a book from someone reflecting a different world view than i thought i'd get....i might just put it down. this is what makes the world go round as far as likes and dislikes. :)

    Where Romance Meets Therapy

  6. I am always true to my core beliefs but I do enjoy reading and learning of others. For instance, you and I hold very different views but that does not hinder me from identifying with your writings or gleaning certain things from them. I may not agree but I do learn where you are coming from.
    I am simply amazed at the following my blog has picked up. I openly share my christian views but have several agnostics, atheists, a few Buddhists, many Jews, a even Hindu follower. I am happy this is so even though I do not understand how it came to be!

  7. I write from my world view. So my beliefs will definitely come through in my stories. When I read, I always try to understand what the author's world view is so that I can think through how it differs from mine. Those difference won't stop me from reading (sometimes, yes), but most of the time the differences help me to think more about what I believe and why it's important to me.

  8. Characters tend to change in a story, which is the hole point of the story. I think that the characters in my book end in a place similar to where I am, but start somewhere very different. And the path they take isn't one I have personally walked. The lessons that my characters learn are definitely things that I believe, but if someone read the first three chapters of my book, I hope they wouldn't think I was anything like my characters. I would never want to have all the problems I've thrown at them.

  9. "just because we write about something doesn't mean we necessarily are trying to push that view on the world"

    Certainly not, but I think books often do contain moral messages, whether intended or not, based on the values of the author. In the chick lit/women's lit genres, we can tell that the Sex and the City author clearly doesn't think that a cocktail or two is a moral wrong. The Shopaholic series author probably would counsel against carrying too much credit card debt. The author of Commencement is clearly a feminist. The Joy Luck Club author cares about family.

    Do I think any of these books are thinly veiled autobiographies? NO. The characters as written may be informed or inspired by the authors' life experiences, but I know that the authors are not actually their characters. The authors ARE, however, in many ways reflected in the books as a whole.

    Often, as Kate was saying, the growth of the characters leads the reader to see how the author thinks, because naturally an author would have the characters learn the lessons that have been important to us in our own lives, the ones that perhaps inspired us to write in the first place.

    Sometimes a different point of view is a great challenge to our own way of thinking, and sometimes it's just unreadable.

    I love the work of Ernest Hemingway even though his stories reveal that he clearly has some, shall we say, issues with women... and yet I can see myself being very put off by a contemporary writer who appeared to share similar views. The quality of the writing certainly matters, as does the ultimate message.

    Obviously, I'm still thinking all this through...

  10. Very interesting thoughts, and ones I have contemplated often. I read a lot (as we as writers are wont to do), and I have many books on my shelves that many in my family would object to, simply because of the differing world views they present. I enjoy learning about how others see the world and the fundamental truths and questions we all have.

    Will their ideas change what I believe? No. But they will shake them, stir the thinking pot, and allow me to ask questions and dig deeper and discover more about the why behind what I believe. This is important. If we are never challenged, how can we know what we truly hold to? Plus, if I never read works or associate with others who have differning views from my own, how can I honestly believe I have any right to expect others to listen to my own words, my own ideals, and hold them in any type of respect? Thank you for this post :)


  11. I have seen people try to write outside what I'm going to call their comfort zone. You've probably seen them too; the people who say, "Well, I write teen lit." And you reply, "Oh, did you read so-and-so?" To which they exclaim, "Oh, NO! I don't read it; I just write it."

    This doesn't mean that I don't think you should step outside of your comfort zone or write outside of your expertise. Otherwise, only serial killers would write serial killer books, and that would be creepy. But I think there's such a thing as playing it too safe just as there's such a thing as going so far out of your comfort area that you get lost.

    Am I making ANY sense here?

  12. Great post. I am pretty open-minded so am not freaked out when I read a book with a different world view. But I do agree that its hard not to color your own book with your personal beliefs. If you read my work, you'll probably find out that I see things through sarcastic eyes, believe happy endings are possible, love a bad boy, and have father issues (because the dads of my characters are always either absent or jerks, lol).

  13. You had me at "sarcastic eyes"...

    Carrie Harris, you DO make sense. The people who don't make sense are the ones who refuse to read within their own genre. How do they know what works and what doesn't, what's stale and what's fresh, if they don't READ that type of book? I probably read more novels that fall outside my "authorial genre" than inside it, but I've at least read enough to discover what I like and what I hate about the category (and can try to write accordingly), you know?

  14. Cool, I feel a bit honored to be quoted :) Sometimes I write those comments so late at night that I wonder if they make sense the next day. I stay up late sometimes to catch you guys as you post for that day. Cause of the time difference I am either late to you blog or the first one there... anyway... I think your post was brilliant. And not because you quoted me, but because yet again, you have made me think. I love those quotes by Stephen King. I am glad there are as many different writers in the world as there are view points on life. Makes this planet interesting :)

  15. Love the picture heading the post.

    A genre I wouldn't expect to see any time soon: CO2punk

    If you'd like an example of a writer who is highly readable despite having some worldview points which are objectionable, try Ngaio Marsh. She is, IMHO, easily one of the best mystery writers ever. Despite which, the constant smoking of her characters drives me insane, and a lot of people were disturbed by her homophobic Singing in the Shrouds. Despite which, she's still one of the best ever.