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"Characters don't necessarily represent authors' opinions", 11th Oct 2017, 5:22 AM #1
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hey, I think this a good time for this reminder, since I recently saw someone getting flak for something their protagonist said.
Characters do not necessarily represent their authors. A character can do something absolutely horrible, or think that any certain bad thing is just fine. It doesn't mean their author agrees with them; it's just part of writing diverse personalities. Even if it's the protagonist you're supposed to root for, they're still allowed to make mistakes.
As someone who has many characters who hold different opinions from mine on important subjects, it was discouraging to see someone get negative comments based on their protagonist's mistake. (if you happen to know which comic I'm referring to, please don't mention it because I want this to stay general and not turn into a debate around that particular instance. thank you)
11th Oct 2017, 5:55 AM #2

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Sadly, we're in an age where an amoral cartoon character's request for Szechuan Sauce turned into a mad riot of imitators...but I agree with your point.
11th Oct 2017, 7:21 AM #3

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I worry about this sometimes, probably too much. My characters hold some beliefs I don't agree with, and do things I wanna say right now I don't condone. My protagonist thinks enjoying sex makes you a dirty person, and that democracy is foolish because elected leaders aren't trained from birth to rule. I don't agree with him, but there are reasons he thinks this way that make sense in the story.

And there's the matter of character development. If you want the character to change his opinion, he has to have the controversial opinion in the first place. Even if he doesn't change, there's nothing wrong with a character thinking a certain way, especially when there's a reason for it. Characters are people, and people are shaped by their experiences and surroundings. It's unrealistic to expect every opinion or action to line up with what the author or reader thinks is right.
11th Oct 2017, 8:16 AM #4

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I will leave that a lot of our main characters are extensions of ourselves and sometimes subconsciously we can plan our own opinions of the leaves in them which I don't think anything is wrong with that. But people also have to remember that characters are different and will act accordingly to how the story is written.

There is an old anime called School Days and at first glance it looks like a cute MOE anime.

It is not. It has the most hated main character in anime history in it. But people were mad at how he acted and how the other characters act in the show, and called the show stupid, horrible etc..... but that was the point of the show. It was made for the main characters to be hated because that is how the other one of them to be portrayed The people who were out of context and call the entire show horrible.

It wouldn't be interesting if their were characters that didn't challenge our own values or opinions.
11th Oct 2017, 8:21 AM #5
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On the one hand I can relate to what you're saying, but on the other, when some Mary Sue character is saying deplorable shit that relates to real life and in-universe things is going well for him, at a certain point I'm gonna start to wonder.
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11th Oct 2017, 10:34 AM #6
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Yeah. And people need to realize that if a main/important character is an utter asshole who does stupid things that hurt the other characters doesn't mean that the author approves of his/her actions and is an utter piece of dung just like said character. Or that he will never grow out of it.

However, I DO think that every character needs to have some redeeming qualities to make him sympathetic to some readers.
11th Oct 2017, 11:03 AM #7

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What gets me worried is when works are decried for a character saying something racist or sexist and you look it up and it turns out it was the villain. It's like calling Doom Satanist even though your goal is to kill the demons. Oh wait, that happened... a lot.
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11th Oct 2017, 12:07 PM #8

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Essentially, people are stupid - well large swathes of them, anyway. Look how many idiots harass actors in real life, because they identify them with the characters they play on-screen.
Gay/straight is a classic example - people seem to assume an actor who portrays a gay character, must themselves be gay. Ludicrous. But this sort of crap happens all the time. Or they are amazed, if the opposite turns out to be true - the 'butch' hero is played by someone who definitely isn't !

Any sort of decent, dramatic writing is ( or should be ) full of a wide array of attitudes, including some very dark ones. All written by one person. How can you attribute just one character's attitude to the writer....unless the writer has a multiple-personality syndrome ?

11th Oct 2017, 12:57 PM #9

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I believe a sign of a good author is the ability to convincingly write characters they do not fundamentally agree with. Some of my favorite authors do that very well. I really enjoy reading things with problematic characters and where the author's actual opinions are some what obscured.

That said I believe art is about communication. One of the many ways to measure the success of a piece of art is how well it communicates the message the creator intended. Obviously no one is going to succeed at doing this 100% of the time. If you are getting consistent feed back from multiple sources with similar misconceptions then it's time to rethink how you are attempting to communicate that message.

If you are doing a poor job communicating your ideas it's not the audience's fault.

This is something I've run into with my own comic. One of my main characters is a terrible person. I try I make it clear that the way he acts and the relationships he has are unhealthy. Yet, based off of some feed back I have received, there are readers that don't see it that way. Granted they are coming to my comic with their own preconceived notions and biases that absolutely shape how they see my work but so is every other reader. It has made me really rethink how I write that character because I don't want my readers to get the idea that I think what he does it acceptable.

While I agree with the basic premise of this title I also think you can't completely disregard how the audience views your work.
11th Oct 2017, 1:35 PM #10
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It's all about context. I think there's a difference between a normal character and strawmen. Strawmen represent their beliefs so poorly that you're made to believe the opposite of them which, typically, is an author's point of view.

But you're right, even then it could simply be for a thematic purpose. Never assume, my dudes ^^
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11th Oct 2017, 1:36 PM #11

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I am just stunned that people jump to such conclusions. There are tons of protagonists that are nothing like their authors. Think stories where the protagonist is a bad guy or a savage. Or in my case, a man while I am a woman! A character is another work of art not the author's alter ego.
11th Oct 2017, 2:37 PM #12
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probably comes down to a lot of mentally unsound people on the internet unable to detect nuances in written speech.
11th Oct 2017, 2:37 PM #13
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i don't think "writing a protagonist whose morals fundamentally differ from your own" and "writing a protagonist who is the opposite gender of yourself" are particularly comparable when it comes to the terms of the OP. you certainly won't receive the same kind of criticism based solely on being a woman writing a male protagonist. now, men writing women, that's another discussion entirely.

it's absurd for people to expect characters to be a mouthpiece for the author.
11th Oct 2017, 2:49 PM #14

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Well, maybe not for gender but there is still an issue in the sense that it has nothing to do with the author. Like a said, a character is a work of art not a sign of deviancy. So what if a man creates a female character? The Powerpuff Girls were created by man and he made a cartoon masterpiece.

With that said you cannot judge a writer by their character for better or worse.
11th Oct 2017, 3:17 PM #15

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Kind of boggles my mind that some people seem to have such a hard time separating fiction from reality.

Same goes for people who think that an actor must be bigoted in some way because they played a bigoted character on film/TV. It's acting! You're pretending to be someone other than yourself, that's the whole point!
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11th Oct 2017, 3:54 PM #16

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As someone said before, Humans are stupid. We go on a killing spree when an animal outside of our species is portrayed as an antagonist in a major film.

I’m a heavy believer in “death of the author/creator”. Even if you, as an artist, creates the most gruesome, sickening shit, my opinion of you will be neutral until given a reason to feel otherwise regardless of what I think of your work. That being said, it’s impractical to expect the world and characters within a story to be pristine depictions of idealized perfection. (unless this is intentional, and has a reason) That’s not how things work, and it’s even weird to not incorporate some kind of casual racism, sexism, and other kinds of –isms into a fantasy or sci-fi universe.
Although how you go about it is also important. Having a character, void of personality, or meaning throwing out “trigger words” just to be edgy is no better than having characters who are “perfect”. There's gotta be reason behind it, is this mindset prevalent in this town? Is this character from a town where racism/sexism/blahblah are normal? Are they just being just trying to be "cool" cuz they hear their parent/buddy/teacher say it? Why this -ism? The concept also applies to problematic actions. You can say one of my characters is like a meaningless, edgemaster, but their attitude is intended to be the tip of an iceberg. Also the character is just an idiot.
11th Oct 2017, 4:26 PM #17

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Totally on board here about author vs. character opinions/behavior. Sadly, though, many don't even consider how the writing is done so as to reveal that whatever 'bad thing' is not to be taken as intention or fact, with or without attaching it to the author.

Kevin Smith (Clerks, Mallrats, Jay & Silent Bob, & etc.) had a lesbian protest about a line a character made about lesbians. (Not repeated so as to preserve decency.) She asked how Kevin could say such a thing. Kevin replied (paraphrased), "I ask you, WHO is saying it? I wrote it so that the dumbest character in the movie makes that remark. If you look at anything this character says, he's obviously misinformed and stupid. So tell me... why do you think I had HIM say such a thing?"

It's just a basic fact of storytelling. I mean, even something basic like fairy tales are cautionary tales. Why would they be written as praise of immoral behavior? There HAVE to be unpopular sayings or deeds or else there's no conflict (whether simple among characters or plot-driven).

...but, as we sadly know... some people ARE that stupid.

It also makes me ponder that they always need to put that disclaimer on commentaries to the effect of "viewpoints, statements and opinons do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of this production company, its employees or ~~" AS IF we didn't know that. You mean EVERYONE involved with a company DOESN'T hold the SAME opinion about ONE ASPECT of THIS ONE project? sheesh.
11th Oct 2017, 4:43 PM #18

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Basically 90% of the time, a character's views are just that.

But then the cases where an author's views are painfully transparent are sometimes hilarious, or even just frustrating, because they are asserted in a way that makes jackshit zero sense and has no regard for the context of the plot (or the character's usual behavior) and just ruins your enjoyment of an entire damn anything. It's not even whether or not you agree with the viewpoint, it's that the viewpoint is shoved in there with all the immersion-breaking subtlety of a jackhammer. Nick Spencer is a repeat offender.

Sam Wilson (Falcon) is (supposed to be) a good guy who has his shit together, right? And he becomes the next Captain America. That's cool if you never once read Marvel Generations because that's when he travels back in time and meets Captain America during World War II because, when talking to Cap, he refuses to share the tech behind his wings not because of any reasons that make sense like 'I can't alter the course of history' (because he clearly can, given that he decides to live out the entire rest of his life in the past, contrast this to other characters who go into the past). No, it's specifically because, quote-unquote to Captain America: "Let's be real here. If the military's top guys got real confirmation of these wings, they'd be pretty tempted to put them on a soldier that looks a little more like -- well, you."

Listen, son, I get the whole 'representation in comics and diversity in media/entertainment' thing, but when you have the power to prevent Hiroshima and Nagasaki, when you have the power to save countless people from nazi death camps -- THEN THE RACIAL DEMOGRAPHICS OF THE SOLDIERS THAT YOU GIVE THE WINGS TO DOESN'T MATTER. JESUS CHRIST, YOU SOUND LIKE A PSYCHOPATH.

"Yeah, I understand I could end this war practically overnight by helping the military develop superior tech by letting them see my wings, but listen, I come from a time where we're very concerned about representation in the media, and so since in 1943 I can't make sure that the soldiers to liberate Europe are people of color... I'm gonna pass. I'd rather just let the course of history continue as-is, let the war rage on for two more years, let Hiroshima and Nagasaki get bombed, and millions of people die in extermination and death camps."

11th Oct 2017, 4:55 PM #19

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There are a few factors to keep in mind:

1) Some non-writers assume the protagonist is basically an extension and clone of the author's own personality and values -- because that's how they would write and they assume everyone else is the same. Some inexperienced writers DO write like this, and this is where the "Mary Sue" concept is from.

2) Webcomics tend to be a very slow-moving story form (i.e. one page a week, give or take, if even that), and if you sift through the Comicfury database on the top right corner or look through the "random" tab, you'll see that most people quit before they get very far into the story. So a character who starts a planned 500-page story with an offensive opinion will have a change of heart by Page 75. Which in comic-time is not very far in at all, but in real time is like the year 2021 with a slow or irregular update schedule and a couple of hiatuses. IF the author doesn't completely give up by then.

3) There's a difference between prescriptive storytelling and descriptive storytelling. Or a protagonists as role models vs protagonists as flawed, real people who are products of the setting they're from. Characters are not supposed to be just reflections of the author anyway. Characters may have casually offensive quirks, controversial opinions, and contrary value systems all the way through the end of the story and that's OK.
11th Oct 2017, 5:27 PM #20
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Most of this thread seems to be pretending that author mouthpiece characters aren't common, or that it's up to the reader to guess what the author meant when the writing is bad.

Characters who are depicted as being wrong can be made as obvious as one likes. Disney's Gaston isn't controversial, and in the context of a movie for children, I'd even say he's excellent: Look, a bad guy can be popular, charismatic and get half of town to agree with any nonsense he says! Keep an eye out for guys like that kids, they'll try to manipulate you too!
On a spectrum of "showing the villain's thought process without endorsing it" and "totally an author avatar", it's on the first extreme.

It's harder to find an example that stands out for the other extreme because frankly, author avatars/bad writing are common.
But just to have one, Stan and Kyle from South Park are usualy the mouthpiece for the show's official "common sense" point of view, where caring for anything will automatically lead to grotesque extremes and the world would be so much better if people all agreed to be apathetic. Outside scenes where they just react to the plot or display some naiveté to characterise them as kids, you can generally count on them to speak for the authors.

So come on, every variant of that spectrum exists in the wild, and demanding that the reader always guess where you stand is lazy. For readers to accept that your character's views are their own, you have to at least allow suspension of disbelief to happen, and going "how dare they not read it like I meant it!?" doesn't make me optimistic about it.
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