Saturday, 14 October 2017

Should Fictional Characters Be Role Models For Readers?

Recently, I was asked whether Mukti, the heroine in my Soulmates Saga, is a good role model for young British-Asian women. I'd answered by saying that in some ways, she is, and in some ways, she isn't.

Mukti, who you first meet in Chasing PavementsBook 1 of this contemporary romance series, is strong, hard-working and takes care of the people she loves. Great! However, she also has insecurities and they sometimes get the better of her. It's not ideal, but it makes her real.

Either way, I hadn't actually intended for her ~ or any of my characters, for that matter ~ to be a role model for readers.

I watched an interview with Stephanie Meyer (author of the Twilight Saga) a while ago, and she was asked how she felt about critics saying that her female lead Bella isn't a good role model for young girls. Stephanie said that readers shouldn't look to fictional characters to be their role models. Instead, they should turn to members of their family, friends, colleagues, real people in real life. Those are the people that have a responsibility to lead by example.

I wholeheartedly agree with Stephenie. I don't think authors should only create protagonists that readers can look up to. Writers shouldn't have to shape their characters in a way that they won't be criticised, or so that they are adored by the masses.

These are the three main reasons why I don't think fictional characters should be idolised by the reading public:

1) More often than not, the hero or heroine will be the ultimate over-achiever (e.g. a really powerful assassin, the best in the world) or the ultimate under-achiever. The super-clever, super-successful and outrageously fantastic protagonists set the bar so high that readers will be disappointed if they can't meet those unrealistic standards. It will be particularly difficult for younger readers to digest, if they can't do the things that their favourite characters can. And of course, you shouldn't look to become an under-achiever, either, should you?

2) Fictional characters will occasionally take huge risks, which luckily pay-off (because they're in a book and have to save the day). This doesn't mean we'll be just as fortunate if we do something similar. In a book, a woman might quit her steady, well-paid job to fulfil her lifelong dream of... say, opening a coffee shop, and plough all her savings into it. If it's a romance novel, a rich, handsome guy might fall for her and invest in her new business (without her knowing about it, of course) and help it take off. What are the chances of something like that happening to you and me?

3) Protagonists in fiction need to make difficult decisions, and also make mistakes, to drive the story forward, grow as a character, and to pull other characters/sub-plots into play. Writers will sometimes bring out the darkest side of a character and have them hurt their loved ones to serve a higher purpose. To entertain the reader, the author will make their protagonists do and say things that we shouldn't in real life. In the majority of cases, everything will work out fine for the hero and heroine in the end, and they will have a happy ever after. If we follow their lead, though, how can we be sure that it will work out like that for us, too?

It's also good to note that even if you write a character that you want readers to admire and aspire to, not everyone will see it that way. Some readers might even criticise the character for being unrealistic or too perfect for them to relate to.

I've seen a couple of BookTubers criticise certain characters for being unrealistic because they always do the right thing, and don't have enough flaws. Those same people also criticise certain characters that are flawed and, in their opinion, don't set a good example. You won't be able to please everyone.

Therefore, I concentrate on writing a good story with well-developed, realistic characters that will make the book enjoyable and memorable. My priority is to write great books with interesting characters.

I, on the other hand, will do my best to behave professionally and set a good example for readers and writers alike.

Thank you for reading this post. If you'd like to check out my books, click on the links below:

Chasing Pavements is book 1 of my contemporary romance series, the Soulmates Saga, available to download from:

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Book Details

Length: 110,000 words
Genre: Contemporary Romance / Clean Romance / Diverse Romance / Interracial Romance / Romantic Drama / Women’s Fiction

Mood: Inspirational / Feel Good / Coming of Age / Dark
Content: Sexy but No explicit sex scenes / No erotica
Audience: New Adult & College / Adult / Female Readers

Recommended for: Readers that enjoy romance novels with serious issues and characters with depth. This is a story about life, love, friendship, family, music, art, destiny and soul mates.

And the first two books in my teen urban fantasy/YA paranormal romance series, the Poison Blood series, can be downloaded for free via:

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PB1 Book Details

Length: 29,000 words
Genre: YA Paranormal Romance / Teen Vampire Romance / Young Adult Paranormal Fantasy / Teen & YA Urban Fantasy / Young Adult Science Fiction & Fantasy / Supernatural Romance / Fantasy Romance
Mood: Dark / Humorous / Coming of age
Content: No violence / No explicit sex scenes / No erotica
Audience: Teen / Young Adult / New Adult / Adult
Recommended for: Readers that love all things vampires, slayers and witches!

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  1. I get where you're coming from. I would add, though, that often characters are written in a way that puts them forward as role models (e.g. particular actions are put in a positive framing.)

    I would personally say Bella Swan is one of those characters who the author DOES frame as a role model, and uses her to promote certain actions and views. I'd say that YA authors have to be more careful in the way they frame things in general.

    Of course, taking advantage of an author's note to be like, 'DON'T DO THE THING!' (especially where 'the thing' is something that could very well happen irl,) is something that authors should maybe do a little more! XD

    1. Thanks for your thoughts 😊

      Authors that intend for their characters to be role models need to be careful seen as everyone interprets what they read differently. I recall Stephenie Meyer saying she hadn't intended for Bella to be a role model and I didn't feel like she did when I read the Twilight Saga. Other readers have felt differently.

      The problem is, when a character makes a so-called controversial decision, or behaves differently to their peers (in the books and the reading public), everyone immediately believes it to be the author's way of promoting said behaviour/action, and its not always the case. I personally have had my character Mukti do things that felt right to her and were necessary for the story, but I wouldn't have done the same thing in that situation or advised anyone to do that under the same circumstances, and it wasn't something I believed was right. I don't think I was selling out my beliefs or anything, I just wanted to write an interesting and entertaining story.

      You're right though, if I was writing for YAs then I would have thought a lot harder and longer about it, but at some point I'd have drawn the line between writing a good book to entertain the reader and worrying about criticism.

    2. It's always a balance, definitely. And there's a big difference between, say, a character acting like a jerk, and a teen character entering into a romantic relationship with a teacher from a 1st person perspective...(yes, that happens sometimes in YA! I've read things like that.) It's all about thinking 'could this affect the way people look at things?' 'Could someone get seriously hurt by thinking this is ok?' Like I said, people need to use author notes sometimes! Lol.

    3. Yes, when you're writing for young audiences, you need to be careful. And a note from the author will help. Though everyone involved in the educating/upbringing of young people needs to chip in and talk about issues that affect them.

      If a book or film gets a conversation going, then perhaps people will become better informed about certain issues by talking about it.

      Thanks again for reading and commenting, really appreciate it 😊

  2. Oow, very difficult subject to negotiate. I'd say that lots of writers want readers to connect to their characters be it in understanding their plight, or wanting what they experience. If you do connect some then feel a part of the story, and perhaps, might confuse empathy with a role model situation? I don't know.
    In my opinion, a writer who sets out to create a role model may well miss connecting to their audience, who might feel they are being 'lectured to' by a character that is too pure and perfect.
    Many of us read to escape out daily life, so we want a bit of 'illusion' in either a good or bad character format as long as we 'get' the character or the story.
    Not sure if my answer really helps?

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, Rosie. All good points, and I particularly like your point about reading to escape. That's the main reason why I read fiction, so I'm not really looking for advice on how to behave.

      I've always seen fiction as primarily a form of entertainment, and non-fiction books as texts that I should learn from, and don't expect fiction to teach me anything, though if it does (like about art, history etc.) then that's a bonus. But I don't expect the characters to always behave in a socially desirable way or be a guide for how to behave in certain circumstances. It might be due to the way the terms 'fiction' and 'non-fiction' were explained to me by the teacher that introduced these terms to me, or because I read mainly fantasy growing up, and I knew that the actions of characters that belonged in a make-believe world couldn't transfer to real life so there was no point in using their behaviour as a guide. To be honest, I saw the 'world' in contemporary fiction as make-believe, too - made up characters in made up situations that were thought up in someone's imagination.