The Power We Hold as Authors

Christian Brown Author PhotoGuest Post
by Christian A. Brown

Artists are the soul of our society. The ones that influence as well as reflect — in language or other mediums — the morality, beauty and ugliness of our world. Writers, specifically, hold great power. Look to Stalin, Steinem, Nietzsche, Woolf and countless other literary exemplars to see that the pen is indeed mightier than the sword. Writers hold influence, whether we accept this responsibility or not. Now, assuming that we do embrace it, bearing in mind that not everyone needs to, we then need to look at the finer points, the invisible moral signals behind our writing. What messages do our characters convey? How are we influencing our readers? For better or for worse? Depending on your politics and beliefs, the answer to that question will vary. For the purpose of this dialog between you and me, let’s assume that you’re in my camp: valuing freedom above oppression, with a mix of liberal and conservative opinions.

When I write heroines and heroes, I write them based on the role models that I’ve known in my life. Strong, but suffering moments of weakness. Brave, but not unflappable or made of iron. Smart, but not so smart that they’re annoying know-it-alls. You know, relatable, believable folks. Write a believable character, and you’ve won half the battle with getting people to like your book. These characters are the folk I’d like my children (whenever I’m blessed with having them) to hang out with. One of the reasons why I write such characters, and focus in particular on developing my female leads beyond stereotypes, is because I am quite tired of the tropes in current literature, especially young adult novels. I understand my influential role and I want to broadcast a different message. I think that there are better things to educate our youth on than love triangles and falling in lust with mysterious, broody, possibly vampiric strangers. In fact, those are probably two things that people can safely avoid until a few drunken nights in their early 20s — though that’s just my opinion and personal experience.

Since I only have 750ish words, I best be gettin’ to some kind of a point. Points, rather. Here they are:

  1. I believe that we (writers) have influence — an extremely powerful form of it, since we actually get inside peoples’ heads. A bit scary when you think about it! A novelist creeping around in there!
  2. I believe that this — great — power should be used responsibly. As per Superman’s guidelines.
  3. If you want to write within the norm, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. People need simplicity and comfort; they do not always need challenge and change. If everyone were a revolutionary, we’d have no stability. All I would ask, writer to writer, is that you are aware of what you are writing, and to whom you are writing.
  4. If you, like me, aren’t a fan of the stereotypes being propagated in modern fiction: change the dialog. Blog about it. Write women (and men) whose lives you envy — not because of their fabulous Prada wardrobe, their Kardashian comeliness, or the dozen beaus chasing them — but because they are damn well fascinating people. For example, women working outside their prescribed skillset; explorers, warriors and scientists, who retain all the wonders and grace of their sex.

Men and women are different, yes. Although beyond certain biological particulars, they aren’t as emotionally different as we railroad them into being. We all love, hurt and need. We all have the same emotions, and if we could somehow strip away the pretence, and the generations of enforced “masculinity” and “femininity”, we’d find a near perfect commonality. We’d find some really interesting people, which is what we want to write. That’s probably not going to happen anytime soon. Until that Star Trekian era, just write stronger leads: male, female, horse and circus monkey. Write heroes and friends for our children. The world has enough Mary Sues and Sir John the Knights. We know those roles, and many are sick of them, only we’re so inundated in stereotypes that we don’t realize this is the case.

Grand ambitions? Empty bluster? I know that I’ve thrown my feet—and ideals—to the fire of my readers. I’ll let them decide. Are you brave enough to do the same?

Christian A. Brown has written creatively since the age of six. After spending most of his career in the health and fitness industry, he published the epic fantasy Feast of Fates in 2014. He plans on releasing its sequel early in 2015. For more on the magical and strange worlds that Christian chronicles, visit his website and his Author Central page.

Author: Administrators

All Indies Unlimited staff members, including the admins, are volunteers who work for free. If you enjoy what you read here - all for free - please share with your friends, like us on Facebook and Twitter, and if you don't know how to thank us for all this great, free content - feel free to make a donation! Thanks for being here.

27 thoughts on “The Power We Hold as Authors”

  1. This is one of the best posts on this subject I have seen. Let’s be brave enough to step away from the cliches and create characters that challenge stereotypes make us ask questions about who we are.

    1. I’m glad that you liked it, Yvonne! I mean, one of the biggest advantages to being an Indie (or disadvantages, depending on your personality—but I’m a glass “half-full” kinda guy) is that we don’t have to conform to the mass market demand set by publishers and advertisers. Our heroine doesn’t have to be younger, sexier, skinnier, or in a love triangle just to sell more books. Unless she chooses to be either of the latter three, herself 🙂

      Will people read it, if its not the norm? Perhaps not as many if it was a paint by the numbers genre book, but I’d wager that those people who connect with your book will REALLY connect with your book. There are numerous untapped audiences and tastes out there, and the mass market generally services the very safe and very few.

      1. Right. It’s one of the reason’s I like to write Fantasy. It allows me to bend norms a bit and challenge gender biases and explore expanded roles for my characters. The one I’m working on now takes that further than my previous trilogy.

  2. Can someone name me three successful writers who have deliberately (and unironically) written boring, cliched, stereotyped characters who nobody wants to read about? Maybe I’m missing the point of this piece, but I don’t understand the bravery in doing what every single author sets out to do: break a mold, flip a script, breach a boundary.

    If everyone’s doing it, or trying to, it’s not courageous.

      1. Harlequin’s not an indie publisher. They’re looking for a formula. People write for that formula, knowing what they’re getting into.

        Linda Lee Williams, a romance author, said, “I write about human beings, with all our strengths and weaknesses, regardless of which gender we are.”

        So it’s clear that not all romance authors are interested in writing boring, stereotypical characters.

        1. I’m not trying to start an argument, David. I know not all romances are formula. And we were discussing writing, not only Indie writing. All I’m saying is that there are some very successful (at least re. income) writers out there that do not stray from formula or stereotype.

    1. As Yvonne mentioned, particularly when it comes to genre fiction such as YA, romance or mysteries (respectively, for example: love triangles, police officers/ cowboys, old ladies with insatiable curiosity). There are cliches, familiar ones, unoffensive ones. Do we really need to call out specific authors for doing this? The list would be endless. That’s not the point of this piece, to demean, or point fingers, and I explicitly mentioned that there’s nothing wrong with writing the status quo or with using the familiar. In fact that makes reaching an audience easier, in many ways.

      I’m simply discussing what drives those who really do want to “break the mold”. I think we’re both on the same page, you and I, although I disagree that every author sets out to innovate. Some just want to tell a story. We seem to have clashed on an issue of perceived tone, of which I would suggest that there is only one of inspiration and not hostility in this piece.

      1. Please note that in no way was I suggesting that anyone gets “called out.” What I said was that no writer deliberately SETS OUT to write a boring, stereotypical character who nobody wants to read about. Everybody intends to write interesting characters. So there’s no bravery in making the attempt: it’s what everybody does.

        1. Seems semantical. Regardless of the intent, the output (stereotypical characters) exist. And I’d argue that there is a certain bravery in deciding, consciously, to write a character that goes against society norms. Be they gay, gender-challenging, a “deviant” of some kind, whatever. Boldness is always involved in making characters of this sort and setting them loose on readers, as is a measure of conscious thought. Which is what I was making a “call to”, so to speak, for those that are interested.

          I would also beware of using the term “everybody”, since as Frank has intimated, lots of writers do indeed set out to make simple, “everyman’s folk.” Margaret Atwood, Findley, just off the top of my head, have long lists of such characters. Often bland characters serve as a deliberate counterpoint to feisty ones, too. So I still disagree with you on a few finer points, I’m afraid. But that’s the beauty of debate: so many different viewpoints 🙂 All the best.

  3. Thank you, Christian, for a beautifully written article. As a romance author, I enjoy exploring the “femininity” and “masculinity” inside all of us. As you noted, men and women are very much alike emotionally; it’s the reason we need one another. Stereotypes persist, however. If readers are looking for “alphas” in my stories, they will be disappointed. I write about human beings, with all our strengths and weaknesses, regardless of which gender we are.

  4. Darn it, I’m always the only one who disagrees with these posts. It’s getting to the point where I’m starting to feel like the old guy chasing kids off his lawn. It’s just that I don’t agree with most of this. I don’t think writers, especially fiction writers, have much, if any, influence on the readers or society’s view of morality, beauty or ugliness. I also don’t think people see artists as the soul of our society anymore (if they ever did) — at least not in the US, where art and music classes are the first extravagant wastes cut from education; where artists are thought of as flakey and lazy. I have a degree in creative writing — and the endless stream of questions about why would I or anyone waste their college education, their potential, not to mention their money on art continue today years later. I also don’t think most readers really want something different to read — that’s why genre and formulaic books do so well. Just try writing a story without a clearly defined plot, a la Woolf, to give an example of one of the artists mentioned here. Especially as an indie. Good luck with that. And, in terms of lead characters, I’d prefer the antihero to the idea of a strong, but flawed type of real folk — Perhaps I’m just a the glass is half-empty type. Finally, I think it was Spiderman who had the who power versus responsibility struggle. I do appreciate the blog post and the concepts discussed, but I just disagree.

  5. Christian, I very much enjoyed your article. Some readers (me) DO want something outside the formula genre novels. Some writers (me) do try to create characters who are real, therefore multi-dimensional.

  6. Christian, thank you for writing this article. I couldn’t agree with you more on the points listed. I write outside of the norm and like to read books that are also outside of the norm. This is the joy of reading and writing indie. 🙂

  7. Refreshing post, Christian. I’m finding it increasingly more difficult to find books that satisfy my need to be amused (which is a core function of fiction) plus feed my desire to be educated and reflect on the world around me. I feel as if literature has become ‘dumbed-down’. We are encouraged to use simpler language and shave off words to get to the action quicker. This kills off the beautiful ebb and flow of words, emotions and imagery that many classics are still known for. And yes, there are obvious formulas in most genres. Fiction now leans more towards amusing readers, forgetting that literature also has a valid place in influencing micro and macro change in both individuals and society. Difficult and/or dangerous books are becoming much too rare.

    Using the power of the word doesn’t mean that we all need to strive for the skills to produce ground-shattering works of literature. It simply means embedding a degree of social-political-environmental awareness in whatever genre we choose to write. Refusing to use tired tropes and stereotyped characters is a good start.

    Good luck with your writing, Christian. I look forward to reading your work.

    1. Some great points, Karen, especially regarding the devolution of language. I feel the exact same way as you on the subject. I grew up on the YA fiction of Ursula K. LeGuin, Susan Cooper and Lloyd Alexander. The beauty and intricacy of their “contemporary”, “young adult” prose puts to shame many of today’s novels in the same genre/ subgenre (fantasy).

      I’m quite intrigued by your work now. Time for a Google hunt!

  8. Thank you for addressing this, Christian. I like pushing the envelope a little. Okay, sometimes a lot. I especially agree with your point about male/female roles, and I explore that in fiction. If the characters do no interest me, they are not going to interest the reader.

    1. From all the praise I’ve heard about your work, your characters are a testament to your vision. Just grabbed The Picture of Cool off (at $1.08, it seems criminal not to!) I’ve been meaning to check out your novels for a while, and that seems a good place to start. Have a great weekend, and all the best.

  9. I start most of my replies to guest posts the same way, so I guess I must be becoming stereotypical: sorry to come late to the party, Christian, but living on the other side of the planet it seems that, although we’re officially a day earlier, I’m always a day late getting in. Although, having said that, I see that Karen managed to get in nice and early; she must have been burning the midnight oil.

    Back on subject though; I like to think that my characters are a little outside the box. Even in my historical fiction, which is based on true accounts, I chose to focus on (actually I believe that they singled me out) little known and generally maligned historical characters and told it from what I believe is their point of view.

    I think you have the right idea, Christian; I believe we do have a responsibility, as writers, to stretch and challenge the accepted norms, to poke the social conscience, to scratch inside of the head of the human psyche, in whatever way we can. As Indies, we are not as restricted as our brothers and sisters who are tied into contracts which more dictate the rules by which they write – and I totally understand those who are and who probably make a more lucrative living by doing so, and those who are bound by the same kind of contracts to turn out regular, formula driven, set pieces – but I for one am happy that the changing face of the literary scene allows me to publish what I like, when I like.

    Good post, Christian.

  10. Fascinating debate – of course none of us in real life are stereotypes (even if we are encouraged to behave as such in certain circumstances) so the moment you scratch below the surface of a character you blow away the blandness of presumption. What I found interesting and a bit frustrating when my beta readers read my last book was how utterly thrown and angry they were when a character turned out to be a gay man not a woman. It was such a strong reaction that I edited the book to make it clear earlier on that he was a he. I’m still not sure if it was the right decision – I would have preferred to keep the twist in there to make people think about this sort of stuff but it seemed to get in the way of the overarching story (which challenges loads of stuff as well). Maybe I should have been braver or maybe I was wise – who knows…

  11. There are no good guys or bad guys in my novel. Everybody does bad things – with varying degrees of badness. But that’s life isn’t it? Not even heroes are perfect. Though I’d like to think we writers have some degree of influence – whether it’s intentional or unintentional. Love “If everyone were a revolutionary, we’d have no stability.” Now, that’s food for thought. 🙂 Fabulous post, Christian. Thanks!

Comments are closed.