I believe that our stories belong to the characters we create. For that reason, an entire work of fiction can be ruined for me when I hear the voice of the writer on the page. I’m not talking about our classic definition of voice, the one we are trying to discover and develop as writers. What I’m talking about is when the flow of a story is interrupted every so often by a writer who just can’t seem to stay out of things. If I am lucky enough to be immersed in the world the writer has created, this pulls me right out of it. The flow stops. The characters disappear. I am left standing face to face with the writer’s ego, which is not a place I want to be.
Obviously this is a mistake. As writers, we never intend to interrupt the flow of our stories, but sometimes it just happens.
I think this is most likely to happen where there has been a great deal of research involved in creating a story. I’m pretty sure I’ve been guilty of it. I write books set in current times, but they always include quite a bit of imbedded history as well as medical and psychological data. My research takes up a high percentage of my total writing time. I always end up with more information than I can use, and I know that, on at least one occasion, I have slipped some of that information into a chapter where it clearly didn’t belong. It wasn’t an urge to take credit for the piece or even to tell you how much I know. My intentions were honorable. It’s just that I had fallen in love with my own research and wanted to share some of the data. The information didn’t fit any character, and it didn’t further the plot. It simply didn’t belong in my story.
While we may have some wonderful information, sometimes we do ourselves a disservice to include it. Nothing slows down a story faster than pedantic rambling. It’s boring. It’s frustrating. I think it’s better to save these bits of trivia for our book tours where we are encouraged to elaborate, and, even there, they should be kept to a minimum.
Though the aforementioned is disconcerting, I become even more frustrated when a writer inserts his opinions into the story. I find it difficult to forgive. While there is nothing wrong with creating a character with opinions that reflect our own, it is very hard to do and, in most cases, should be avoided. Why? It’s always difficult to see ourselves objectively. To assume that we’ve created a character with similar views almost always fails. The character seems flat and dishonest.
If we want to espouse our opinions, I don’t think we should be writing fiction.
Strangely enough, readers of fiction often believe that we are writing from experience, and that any opinions expressed by characters or experiences they have reflect our own. I’m not sure why this happens. That’s a post for another day. I spend a great deal of time telling people that no, I didn’t undergo electroshock therapy, I wasn’t the victim of sexual abuse, and I’m not in a religious cult. Some story elements do come from personal experience, of course, but for the most part they are fiction. The opinions expressed in my novels belong to the fictional characters I create. Sometimes I am violently opposed to their beliefs, but I have to resist the urge to step in to let my readers know this. Who cares what the writer thinks? The story belongs to our characters. If we’re not comfortable with their beliefs and actions, we should scrap the story altogether and write something else.
So there you have it, my strong opinion about why we should never express our strong opinions. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject. What stops the flow of fiction for you? Do you ever have a hard time staying out of the stories you write?
Public domain photo, “Job Lot Cheap,” by William Michael Harnett (1848-1892).