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Conflicted Characters: Is the writer being fair to the reader?

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Old 12-26-2012, 12:48 PM
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Default Conflicted Characters: Is the writer being fair to the reader?


Recently, I wrote a piece with a seemingly likeable character who turned out to have an ugly bias. Was I being fair in assuming that the reader should be able to figure out why this apparent dichotomy existed? What to you all think?

Jim

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Old 12-26-2012, 05:42 PM
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Honestly, without an extended example, it's very hard to judge. In general, however, I think it's a great idea to give your characters multiple values that may come into conflict.

For example, a character who loves both his country and his family may suddenly have to choose between the two. Or perhaps a character who is very pro-gay rights in the abstract--but has a fiercely negative reaction when his son comes out of the closet.

But the sudden bias needs to make sense. Your readers shouldn't need to suspend disbelief. I think your character still needs to add up to a coherent whole--values, flaws, conflicts and all.
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Old 12-27-2012, 12:49 AM
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Actually, I do have a complete example in the members only forum. It's called Christmas Croissants and Tinsel Teeth. An employer who says he is color blind with respect to employment and even seems to be momentarily, reveals that he has a bias against a certain type of person.

One particular moderator took it down. Someone else put it right back up when I complained, and the same original moderator took it down again with no credible explanation. I have left several messages on his visitor's page but he is stonewalling.

A senior moderator, thankfully, put the story back up and I think blocked the other fellow.

I was going to handle disagreeable comments in the thread itself but was never given the opportunity. I was amazed how obtuse the apparent moderator could be. I believe he believes that the views of the character are my own, rather than a hurtful bias I know does exist.

Jim
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Old 12-27-2012, 01:22 AM
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Was that here, Jim? The take down, put up, take down, put up?
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Old 12-27-2012, 04:32 AM
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In answer to the OP, yes, it's completely fair. As a matter of fact, I would argue that only archetypal characters should have "cut and dry" personalities. Good complex characters will often have conflicting goals and values, it helps create internal conflict that makes the characters more "real" to the reader.
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Old 12-27-2012, 05:32 AM
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Originally Posted by Devon View Post
Was that here, Jim? The take down, put up, take down, put up?
Not sure how thats possible since Dragonking is the only male moderator here, and I don't think he's the type to get involved in the kind of dispute described. Maybe LaughinJim is getting his forums muddled up.
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Old 12-27-2012, 05:52 AM
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Or he could be mistaking one of us for male. It's happened before, a number of times. Or could be a forum muddle, too, yes.
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Old 12-27-2012, 05:57 AM
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Some of you are a bit manly round the edges...

I just checked out the members' only section and saw one thread of his with another deleted as an accidental duplicate. Still not seeing how that could be the cause of a moderator dispute. This is sounding more like a mountain out of a molehill situation by the minute.
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Old 12-27-2012, 07:05 AM
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It sounds like you're asking whether it's acceptable have an otherwise likeable character who is a bit of a bigot.

I think so, as long as you handle it with enough care to illustrate that you, the writer, don't share this bigotry. Otherwise it looks a bit like hateful propaganda.

I'm currently writing a psychological horror set in the 19th century, and it's full of period-accurate racism and misogyny. And the main character is rather complicit in it because, contrary to what Hollywood would have you believe, modern Western ethical standards are not universal across all space and time.

That said, the MC is open-minded enough to question the bigotry he's inherited from his culture, which I think keeps him sympathetic to the reader without being anachronistic.
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Old 12-27-2012, 07:32 AM
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Originally Posted by Emerald View Post
I think so, as long as you handle it with enough care to illustrate that you, the writer, don't share this bigotry. Otherwise it looks a bit like hateful propaganda.
I'm curious Emerald, from your posts, this seems to be a concern of yours; the reader projecting the attitudes of the characters onto the writer. Is this the case?

Personally, I've never seen the attributes of a character projected onto the writer. Now the theme of the book, yes. Because that's what the writer is trying to get across.

I sure hope people don't project attributes like that ... I write horror so if they do, I'm probably not far from getting my own private padded room somewhere.
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Old 12-27-2012, 07:38 AM
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I write dark fantasy. But I usually stick a handful of attributes or personal thought-projections into my various characters. We all do, whether we know it or not.
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Old 12-27-2012, 07:55 AM
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It was Tau, I thought it was a he. Redlorry put it back up. I'd like to thank her again. And I'm only on one forum, I did npt confuse a thing. That's kind of ridiculous.

Jim
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Old 12-27-2012, 08:05 AM
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I have to disagree with Emerald a little bit. To err on the side of caution in this department is an error. Tip toeing with your writing is not the way good literature is created.

Dickens, whom I love, refused to create a character that was not either all good or all evil. He was the product of Victorian times. In a complex world full of nasty business, even our nicest friends and relatives may have edges that we don't like. If our characters don't look real, are we doing our job as creators of realism in general fiction? In fantasy we can to the Dickens think, but in the other genre, realism means a better story. To pepper the story with disclaimers is just shilly-shally.

Chef Hughie in Christmas Croissants and Tinsel Teeth has a bad rough edge. Is it my duty as the writer to say that "I don't believe what Hugh believes?' The Chef is not me, he's the Chef. It's a no brainer.
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Old 12-27-2012, 08:21 AM
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Hang on here a moment Jim
I want to know what you are accusing me.

Yesterday I spotted two Identical threads, posted at the same time (exact same time, not a few minutes apart)). This sometimes happens by accident and as such I removed one of them. At no point did I make a judgment call on the content. I did not even read it through, just speed reading to confirm that the two were identical.

Now if you where viewing the one I removed at the time that I removed it I can understand your surprise, however looking at the Member’s Only area should have shown you that your thread was still there. As ChandraH stated, the removed thread was labelled as Accidental duplicate, because as far as I can see it was.

By the way, when leaving visitor messages may I suggest waiting until said person is online until making further comments. Less than 30 minutes really is a short time for me to reply when I am not even online.

Now normally I would PM you with this, so as to not disrupt the thread, but as you are prone to wild accusations (or so it look like to me) I am putting it here. For public viewing.
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Old 12-27-2012, 08:41 AM
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Originally Posted by LaughinJim View Post
In fantasy we can to the Dickens think, but in the other genre, realism means a better story. To pepper the story with disclaimers is just shilly-shally.
Oh, I definitely agree. I think I expressed myself a bit confusingly. What I meant is that the characters should be as realistic as you like, but the themes should be accessible to modern readers.

For example, if you have a main character who hates Asians, it should be illustrated that this hatred has a specific reason (arising from, say, fighting in the Vietnam war or his unrequited love for a Japanese woman, or even something simple like having it passed down from his father). If your main character just hates Asians without any particular reason, it looks like you, as a writer, consider it a "normal" personality trait possessed by normal, average people, that doesn't bear exploration ("because really, who doesn't hate Asians?").

I'm not saying you need to explicitly set yourself apart from your characters, but you can't deny that your characters are a reflection on you. Things like bigotry, racism or misogyny should never be treated as if they are sympathetic traits. At best, it alienates readers who don't share the same beliefs (i.e. most readers).

Though that's not directed at you or your work. I'm just musing.
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Old 12-27-2012, 08:45 AM
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Duplicate threads are often posted by accident. We take down one or the other, depending on whether or not they have responses or what not. That's probably all it was.
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Old 12-27-2012, 10:48 AM
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All great characters are conflicted and neither 100% good or bad.

Personally, I never write a character knowing one way or the other.
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Old 12-27-2012, 02:42 PM
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Tau,

The times on your visitor's messages board of my notes to you will tell all to any good sleuth.

Cheers

jIm.
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Old 12-27-2012, 03:18 PM
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It was a duplicate thread issue. That's all. Period.
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Last edited by Devon; 12-27-2012 at 03:22 PM..
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Old 12-27-2012, 04:07 PM
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Originally Posted by LaughinJim View Post
Tau,

The times on your visitor's messages board of my notes to you will tell all to any good sleuth.

Cheers

jIm.
I consider myself a pretty good sleuth, and those messages don't really support your argument.

12-26-2012 09:05 UTC -- You ask why your story was deleted.
12-26-2012 09:28 UTC -- You ask again, and imply Tau doesn't know the difference between a character's viewpoint and a writer's.
12-26-2012 09:32 UTC -- You accuse Tau of being mad with power (less than thirty minutes later).

All that proves is that you were somewhat impatient and insulting.
(UTC stands for Coordinated Universal Time and is what professional forensic analysts use to standardise timezones. It is equivalent to GMT)

Let's consider your claim that Tau was online and simply ignoring you.
In another thread, at 08:16 UTC, he/she said this:
Originally Posted by Tau View Post
If you mean the lack of welcom posts, it has only been a few hours, in the middle of the night, durning the holiday season when most people are ofline.
So 8am UTC is around midnight in Tau's timezone. That means 9:30am is around 1:30am for Tau. It's reasonable to assume he/she was in bed by then, or at least wasn't in a position to field your questions. Most likely not ignoring you, as claimed.

Additionally, the original duplicate thread you made is still visible, and the "accidental duplicate" tag is still attached, which further supports Tau's side of the story.

If the court will allow, this expert witness submits that the complainant is in error, and their case should be stricken for lack of supporting evidence.

Though if you still feel you're in the right, you could hire me to make electronic discovery against writersbeat. I charge $50 an hour, plus expenses.
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Old 12-28-2012, 02:40 PM
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it's only unfair when it's not clear that it is the character being two-faced, as opposed to the writer causing trouble for no other reason than to be deliberately obscure.
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Old 12-28-2012, 09:02 PM
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Maybe everyone should lay off of Laughingjim- perhaps he's not being a total ass, it's just that he overestimated all of everyone in the whole world forever. It's tough to be able to "write circles around" everyone else and make friends at the same time. Good luck, Jim! Not your fault!
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Old 12-29-2012, 12:31 AM
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Originally Posted by LaughinJim View Post
Recently, I wrote a piece with a seemingly likeable character who turned out to have an ugly bias. Was I being fair in assuming that the reader should be able to figure out why this apparent dichotomy existed? What to you all think?

Jim
I am not sure how one could. A reader like myself would take it as face value. It is impossible to guess what the writer is supposed to achieve if it is not said there and then. It all depends on the reader's character.
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Old 12-29-2012, 04:07 PM
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Originally Posted by WilliamS. View Post
Maybe everyone should lay off of Laughingjim
Maybe you're right. I certainly don't want circles written around me!
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Old 12-29-2012, 04:45 PM
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Originally Posted by Emerald View Post
Maybe you're right. I certainly don't want circles written around me!
That's how satanic cults start...
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Old 01-05-2013, 11:06 AM
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Originally Posted by Front&Centre View Post
That's how satanic cults start...
LOL
Now at least we now haha.
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