Aug 15, 2013

What an Author Promotes

I believe all art is an expression of the artist's belief. What you see on the page, canvas, or screen, or hear from a piece of music, is a piece of the artist's inner self coming through in a form that they have crafted to enlighten, educate, or entertain.

So when I see certain behaviour rewarded in a book, I often wonder if this means the author believes such behaviour should be rewarded in real life. In other words, is there a moral agenda that the author is, intentionally or subconsciously, promoting?

An article posted by the Chicago Tribune the other day confirms that the relationship portrayed in 50 Shades of Grey is indeed that of an emotionally-abusive man and his victim. Anastacia Steele conforms to the expected behaviour of a woman who is afraid of her partner, changing her behaviour, lying to him about her whereabouts and who she sees, in order to avoid making him angry at her.

So that makes me wonder, was EL James aware of the behaviour she was depicting? Did she realise that her heroine was displaying signs of an abuse victim, rather than acting like a woman in a passionate romance?

This issue has been on my mind, because in the new series I've begun writing, I am using a female protagonist for the first time, and intentionally dealing with issues such as sexism and patriarchy. Because this is a departure from Nathan Shepherd, who was an easy character to write, I'm conscious of my need to be aware of how I present my heroine. How I challenge her. How I reward her.

Should an author be expected to acknowledge when their characters are rewarded for negative behaviour? Should they condemn their characters for it? Are they responsible, even if unaware of the negative behaviour they're promoting, and should they make an effort to be aware of all the possible interpretations of their work?


  1. This is a tricky one.

    To me, I think it's good to know what you're writing. I tend to write violence in a seriously tough world. The characters are likable, though. Doesn't mean that I encourage or market violence.

    I don't believe in preaching to my audience, and am not interested in rewarding or punishing my character in any way other than what naturally fits into the story I'm writing.

    If I have to worry every time I write something about how some person will act because of possibly reading my story, I wouldn't be able to write.

    And honestly, I think readers should be responsible for recognizing what's not applicable in the real world and act accordingly. I'm not there to teach them how not to be stupid.

    Haven't read the 50 Shades series, and it's pretty unlikely I will. But just because Anastasia could put up with her boyfriend's crap, doesn't mean I need to. And any reader needs to be able to make that same differentiation. If not, they're reading way above their maturity level. Once again NOT a writer's fault.

    Hope that makes sense. :-)

    1. It makes perfect sense!

      I agree that what a writer creates doesn't take away a reader's responsibility to decide for themselves.

      I like to see the good rewarded and the wicked punished. I also like to see the good have to struggle through the story and earn their victory. But I don't think there's any one way to address this issue. Everyone's tastes differ and I wonder, is it possible to read something like 50 Shades, where the romantic hero is clearly an abusive emotional manipulator, see it depicted as a positive think that the reader is supposed to root for, and still enjoy it?

      I don't think I can. I can love books about flawed characters who make terrible mistakes and have to make hard decisions with no easy answer. But if I feel as though the author is telling me to support something I truly am opposed to, I have to put the book down and move on.