Hey, Author! I think your mind’s showing…

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The book I’m reading at the moment got me thinking, but possibly not in the way the author intended. And since this is my blog, I thought I’d share my thoughts with you.

When an author writes, I guess they hope that certain aspects of their personality will shine through, smiting the reader with awe at their genius etc. This is not to say that authors are particularly big-headed (any more than anyone, for example a blogger, who lays the contents of their mind out in public for anyone to see), but you’ve got to admit that someone who struts their stuff in public is hoping that people are going to be impressed. Otherwise, why do it? If you write only for the pleasure of writing, then what’s the reason for publishing? Publishing is for when not only do you want to write, you want others to read what you’ve written.

But what else does your writing say about you? You authors out there, have you ever taken that step back, read through your stuff, and thought What does this say about me?

Other than What a genius, obviously.

The thing is, writing is produced solely from the mind of the writer. This applies whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, although of course in respectable non-fiction there is supposed to be a clear delineation between fact and opinion. But you can sometimes still detect the author’s personality in the turn of a phrase, the exact placement and choice of a word, the conclusions they draw from evidence (just read anything about Richard III if you don’t believe me).

Fiction, though, that’s a whole different ball game. There are no external facts: it’s purely a construct of the author’s mind, so you do see a lot of the author’s personality. I read one book a while back, and the author didn’t come across as a nice person at all. He didn’t seem to respect his characters, or even like them – the whole novel had this air of contempt for these poor people that he’d invented. What kind of person does that? Invent someone from the ground up, and then despise them for the way they are? Made me wonder whether the author was the kind of person who would despise anyone who didn’t measure up to his stringent standards.

OK, another example. Take Laurell Hamilton. You do not have to get this woman drunk to find out that she gets turned on by men with long hair and thigh-high boots. Almost every single sexy male character has the same attributes, and do we believe that this has nothing to do with the author’s preferences? No, we do not (and I’m not the only one who’s noticed). (And I’d like it on record that long hair on a man just makes me want to shout: You! Am I hurting you? No? Well, I ought to be because I’m standing on your hair! GET IT CUT!) Ms Hamilton’s fantasies obviously lean in the direction of extremely long hair, because how often do you see anyone with hair that reaches to below their hips? Hair that reaches the floor is practically unknown (unless matted into dreadlocks) because it’s biologically impossible for most people – all to do with how long the ‘growing period’ is for an individual’s hair, before the hair falls out.

Terry Pratchett; now, I like this guy. He respects people who know what needs to be done, and do it, even if it costs them. He likes teachers and policemen. Even when he’s describing the appallingly insanitary Watch House canteen, you know that he’s fond of his characters; he loves their strengths and their weaknesses. He watches people, and he points out their amusing little peculiarities, but with a kind of understanding, not contempt. He hates prejudice, and points out that anyone can be prejudiced against anyone – no-one gets a free pass just because others might be prejudiced against them. Plus he must do a massive amount of research. I have great respect for Mr Pratchett.

Another author whom I shall not name obviously has a problem with women. You read his books and you eventually realise that all his female characters are either nuns or whores. And if a whore repents and becomes a nun, she still has to die for her sins. Creepy? You bet. After I figured that out, I got rid of all his books. Then washed my hands.

So, what does your writing say about you? What characteristics do you give your heroes, your villains? What prejudices do you have that show up in your writing, even if you’d never admit to them in public?

So, there is a challenge for all you authors out there. Go back and read your stuff with a stranger’s eyes, and see what your reader sees.

What does your writing say about you?

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