Saturday, February 14, 2015

Valentine's Day Post: On Toxic Characters

In the lead-up to the release of Fifty Shades of Grey film, there has been a lot of talk about the casting, the acting, and the adaptation of the book into a film, but the thing I’ve been thinking about most is this: what is a writer’s responsibility to the reader?

It’s easy to make the argument that Ana and Christian’s relationship is emotionally and physically abusive, but the question I’m asking is whether as writers we have a moral code to avoid situations like that, or show them in a less positive light. This isn’t a diatribe on kink in books, or in people’s lives. It’s worth noting that even people within the BDSM community are upset by the book and the movie and that it is very possible to write a book about the subject in a more responsible way (see the wonderful, witty MinaVaughn, for example who writes sex-positive, female positive "kink with a wink"). 

I realize it’s a fine line. I don’t have to admire characters  or agree with their motives, but why, for instance, do I love Gone Girl without feeling like it is promoting cheating, lying, and framing your spouse, but Christian Grey gives me the creeps? 

Is it that Amy is an anti-hero and framed as damaged while Christian is more of a Byronic-romantic lead, like  Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights? Or is Gone Girl written more as a metaphor (i.e. marriage is hell, we’re all Nick and Amy, slowly killing each other)?

I can’t say that I know the answer for sure, but I do personally believe in putting out better vibes in the world. Especially as someone who writes for young and new adults, I wouldn’t want anyone reading something Carrie and I wrote and thinking it’s okay to let someone treat you disrespectfully or hurt you. 

Then again, are we not giving readers enough credit? Can they separate fact from fiction more easily? After all, Fifty Shades has sold millions of copies, and, as far as I know, hasn’t inspired a trend of domestic abuse. That said, if even one woman or young girl thinks it’s okay to be coerced and beaten against her will, isn’t that one woman too many? As a writer, I think it’s better safe than sorry. 

We know that the last thing a reader wants, especially a teen, is to be lectured by an adult in any form. Teenagers are cynical and smart, which is why I love writing for them. Therefore, as Carrie and I create new characters or work on existing ones, we seriously consider our responsibilities as writers and how we can create diverse, complex, characters. The characters we want to write don’t always make the right choices, but we do our best not to romanticize the wrong ones.  

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