It’s a truism that characters take on a life of their own. When this happens, it’s hard as a writer to watch your characters being attacked or misunderstood. It feels personal, as if you’re having to defend your friends from calumny. It’s also just one of those things we have to get used to. We put our work out there, and what people make of it is out of our hands. So our characters have to take their lumps.
Some of the reactions just make me laugh. Like the readers who don’t like Anders’ left-wing politics or his taste for fiddle music. Both of these characteristics come straight from me with no reworking whatsoever (except for the wish-fulfillment of actually being able to play the fiddle, something I swear I’ll do in another life). I bestowed them on Anders with a full ironic twinkle in my eye, wondering what readers would make of them. So the reactions are there for me to enjoy.
On the other hand, when you build a character one way and readers see them quite differently it’s more of a challenge. Many readers enjoy Maia at the beginning of As She’s Told, but say that by the end think she’s so utterly compliant and objectified that she’s become a zombie. That does bother me, because that was the furthest thing from my intention. Maia’s not thinking in language a whole lot while she’s at the farm, but the person that is Maia is still in there. She’s still considering and processing experiences and feelings; her own inner voice continues amused and ironic as well as submissive. She’s just allowed herself to go all the way down into her animal self, to be that “amphibian in her native swamp,” confident that Anders will pull her back up the evolutionary ladder when he decides it's time. I think those readers mistook the behaviour for the person.
Then there was the discussion on Fetlife that referred to Anders as a “weak dom” because he entertained some doubts, and because he discussed what he was doing with a fellow dom in order to keep some check on himself, since Maia would not. And this made me blink in astonishment. Anders, weak? The brain…does not…compute…
And so of course I wonder what readers will make of my new characters (assuming I ever actually write the third book). My sub will be tougher, my dom in no way larger than life. They’ll be as human and complex as I can make them. Stereotypes beckon always; I back away from one such pit and find I’m falling into another. After I wrote As She’s Told I found some list of stereotyped ways to write about a character’s conflict. And there it was: guilt because you couldn’t save someone from something. Anders’ own backstory. Ack! I wrote that to keep him from being the stereotyped domly dom with no weaknesses. See where it got me?
What do you love about your favourite characters? What makes you think about them, worry about them, want to know what happens to them? What makes them real to you?