I read an interesting POST today on a blog I follow. It asks whether characters are truly autonomous or are shaped by the worldview of the writer. Are writers who have "foul-mouthed, bigoted, homophobic, murderous, frivolous, or down-right psychopathic" characters like that themselves? (Quote from Stephen King).
I've been mulling around on this all day. Here's what I think...
The other day I realized I hadn't been honest about one of my characters. He's hardened and angry because he has genuinely crappy parents and has grown up on the street. I had written my whole story without him uttering a single curse word. That's not Garreth. Garreth would curse and with flourish. I had over-tamed him. So I went back and allowed him to call his parents what he feels they are: "He openly declared his parents to be lousy, drunken
I really don't curse and this particular word is pretty impotent. If you met people who knew me they would never define me as foul-mouthed. (As confession, I have had those moments, but they have been few and far between. Unfriend me if you must.) Garreth, on the other hand, curses. It's part of his makeup and he's made up of characters and people I've read, seen, heard, known.
Because I'm writing a novel for younger kids, I'm sensitive to not allowing Garreth to go all out sailor on them. But, I recognized I was hiding too much of who he is in an effort to protect them. It's obviously not a trait to admire and the other characters don't admire him for it. Yet, he's not a complete thug. I once heard someone say he knew a man who was "rogue, but not blasphemous." That is Garreth. There are some wonderful qualities about him that should be admired; so, I say, don't dismiss him altogether. (A lesson to be learned by all straight-laced people. That foul-mouthed fellow just might be the best friend you could ever have. But, I digress...)
So, I think the answer to the post's question is NO and NO. I don't have to allow Garreth complete autonomy because I can, and should, reel him in a bit. On the other hand, just because I allow Garreth to swear doesn't mean I want others to develop the habit.
Art reflects life. I believe that. If I were to write my story without a single broken, immoral, unjust, foul-mouthed, obstinate, person my story would be a snoozer! Stories are about conflict and conflict comes as a result of these types of people and situations. If someone wants a completely sterile piece with perfect people...well, I think they might have those in Stepford.