Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Apologetics in Fiction

The number one reason why I loved Brett Battle’s The Cleaner, is that the main character was real, his portrayal was honest, and the author was unapologetic about his rough edges. Our blog-friend Erica Orloff writes the same way.

I love it.

For example, pretend you have a teacher, in fiction, who reams out a student. In 99% of fiction, you will then be presented with backstory, with TONS of examples of how much they care about their students, and an example of why that reaming-out made the student a better person ... all so that the author can portray a real live teacher but still make their character likable.

It’s not that I mind the backstory or the other examples ... it’s just that I prefer a story that trusts me to understand that the teacher yelled from a place of caring without overdoing the apologetics and explanations. Or at least a story that is really subtle about all that.

So often I see that if a character has a negative trait or does something "wrongish," then apologetics are heaped in such abundance as to not leave the reader any room to misunderstand that This Is A Good Person or--maybe?--for the author to receive complaints about Mr. Evil Teacher.

I prefer characters without apologies.

I’ve noticed, on the shelves, the edgier or kinkier erotica gets, the more apologies, excuses, and counter-demonstrations are needed to make up for their desires. (And you wouldn’t believe how many erotica authors proclaim on their blogs that they don’t have these desires they write about ... ((Okay, tiny rant: even if you don’t have those desires, why say something like that? Do they want their readers to feel ashamed of enjoying the stories of those desires? And why admit to their hypocrisy? If they don’t get it, really get it, I damn well don’t want to read a story about it from them!)) )

Er. Apologetics. Right.

I wonder, sometimes, if paranormal and horror genres are so popular lately because you can say ’this is the world,’ and not have to apologize for showing our humanity (especially when it’s in vampire form, or wiggle-man form, LOL). It’s in a different world, after all, so it’s at a safe distance. It’s not like we’re saying it’s our humanity.

I’ve written apologetics before, that’s for sure. I stand before you, guilty.

But isn’t it refreshing when you just let the characters be? Let them be human? Let them be who they are, no excuse, no apologetics, no judgments ...

An apologetic, in the end, is a judgment of guilt by the author about the character ... maybe in defense of the character, but still.

Just thoughts. What do you think?

12 bonus scribbles:

Jeremy James 10/10/2007 03:26:00 PM  

Awesome post. Agreed. By the way, and by request, my NaNoWriMo post is up...

Jennifer McKenzie 10/10/2007 03:30:00 PM  

How ironic. I just got a crit back that questioned whether my hero was likable because he was an asshat when he was 16.
My answer was "No, he isn't supposed to be likable. He's 16!"
We'll see if she's right.

spyscribbler 10/10/2007 05:05:00 PM  

Very cool, Jeremy! I liked your post. Kinda related to why I've always been a little bit annoyed with the Forest Gump stories ...

Jennifer, it's such a difficult line! I really don't know where it is. Lately, I've been planting my feet (to myself, LOL) and trying not to put my characters into neat, little, obedient boxes.

writtenwyrdd 10/10/2007 06:15:00 PM  

Great post! I think that we as a society have become so worried about being PC and about what others think that it has bled into our writing, creating an overconscious style that fails to give a reader room in which to maneuver their own thoughts, opinions, reactions.

Erica Orloff 10/10/2007 07:03:00 PM  

Totally AWESOME post (and not just 'cause I got a shout-out). Spy . . . there is a scene in THE ROOFER, when Ava slides next to Tom and puts her head on the crook of his arm, and asks him if they can get their own apartment. She TOTALLY manipulates him there . . . and it is SO wrong, but I leave the starkness of her world and what she'd been through to the reader to decide if she threw her brother on the sword or not. Real life doesn't come with this whole back story in the here and now ... some actions just occur and you take them for what they are right then. In the moment.

As for erotica . . . I don't read it, but the one or two blogs I've read by writers of it seem to make apologies--or at least make it seem like it's "all" this fantasy and has no bearing on the author's "real" life. Frankly, I don't care if someone is into S&M or bondage . . . it's their behind-closed-doors thing, and if it's sexy to them, then more power to them. I make NO apologies for my sex life, and if I was GOING to write erotica, I would never make it sound like that's for naughty girls and I'm just a writer of it. Even if that was the case--i.e., it was just, for me, a writing assignment . . . it's not necessary to make excuses. Take the art for what it is. Does that make sense?

spyscribbler 10/10/2007 09:01:00 PM  

writtenwyrrd, I agree. I've been meaning to ask my students if they still have "Social Studies." We used to learn about other cultures and society's beliefs. The problem is that sort of study encourages stereotypes ... but avoiding such things altogether often leads to a lack of understanding.

spyscribbler 10/10/2007 09:18:00 PM  

Yes, Erica! You said it better. :-) But totally! Exactly! Can I erase my post and just post what you said? People are just people. Sometimes even we don't understand why we do something.

I totally understand what you mean about erotica. That attitude really gets under my skin, because if erotica is about anything, it should be about accepting and exploring our sexuality. That sort of attitude strikes me as a betrayal of the readers. I know we can't always write with personal experience, but I think we can all write with respect and care.

Sex is such a vulnerable, scary spot for so many people, that things like that really hit my hot button. At least half of the readers who write me tell me how such stories have led them to feel more comfortable with themselves, to accept themselves and come to terms with what they want. Erotica isn't just about sex sells so let's write it.

There's so much stuff swirled into sex, so much baggage and gunk into something so intimate and beautiful. I just hate the thought that some erotica authors--who should be leading the battle cry of acceptance--make such careless, offhand remarks that will cause the opposite.

I mean just look at the statistics of women who have, in some way, been touched by some sort of sexual betrayal, whether small or big. I wish more erotica authors would strive to be soothers and healers, rather than judges.

(Phew, that was a rant. And I have to amend that I know plenty of erotica authors who do lead the way of acceptance, thank goodness.)

Bernita 10/11/2007 08:58:00 AM  

I so agree.Strongly.
I have a character say "I lied," without apology, and let the situation explain why.

spyscribbler 10/11/2007 09:04:00 AM  

Yes, Bernita, that's awesome. I suppose it's another version of showing, not telling. (Or sometimes, LOL, not showing or telling at all.)

Angie 10/11/2007 01:45:00 PM  

Here from WW's link. [wave]

I agree completely, and I'm trying to think whether I do this, LOL! I don't think so. I'm an erotica writer and it's been a while since I was insecure enough to have to say, "Oh, but I don't do this!!" And that's what it is, really -- insecurity.

The one exception I can think of is when a writer's apologizing in advance for anything they might've been mistaken about, any errors in their research, because they don't practice [whatever] themselves, especially if they're thanking someone for their help at the same time. To me, that's no different than a historical writer thanking Prof. Whomever for her help and assuring the reader that any mistakes are her own -- it's just polite and not apologizing for the actual material.

I write about some things I've never done, but I don't feel the need to post a little chart on my blog to make sure the readers know which kink goes in which column. [wry smile] If someone mistakenly thinks I'm into X after reading one of my stories, then that's a compliment and I'll take it as one.


spyscribbler 10/11/2007 02:05:00 PM  

Yes, I think you've hit the nail on the head, Angie. It really is insecurity, and I should be more patient and accepting of that fact. But it does send a message out that one should be insecure about one's sexuality, you know?

I think we all write about things we haven't done, of course. And I also think you're right, about it being a compliment.

Angie 10/11/2007 08:41:00 PM  

But it does send a message out that one should be insecure about one's sexuality, you know?

Oh, I agree. And sex in particular is vulnerable to those kinds of subtle signals. It seems strange that someone that insecure about sex would actually be writing it, much less writing anything beyond the straight vanilla variety, but I've seen it too so apparently they are. [wry smile]