I’m going to a wedding this week, and it got me thinking about relationships and characters. I’ve talked before about imposing a writer’s own cultural values and beliefs on characters, but it’s equally problematic to impress your specific morals on them. Or, when the character is specifically designed contrary to your own morals, it’s easy to slip into a very biased, skewed, and stereotypical view.
Below is my own sort of self-case study. I would love to know what others think, and how to avoid literary bias, if that’s even possible. Comment away!
In Worldtree, the “element” that influences a particular Elfin race (water, fire, earth, metal, wind, darkness, light, etc.) determines their characteristics. The Elves in my world haven’t achieved Tolkeinesque perfection yet, so there is discord, a lot of which stems from this elemental bias. Their elements determine everything: which god of the pantheon they worship, how long they live, their temperaments (including love, hate, racism, and tendency to murder), and whether their relationships are pure and true, possessive, or brief and meaningless. I don’t have “marriage” for most of them, because relationships are usually either more of a spiritual connection or completely casual.
In general, I think I’ve kept my own personal views out of it by imposing this diversity on them. I think I’ve done an alright job of not saying “this one’s bad” and “this one’s superior” for the most part by justifying it with their nature. Personal vignettes do a lot to that end, forcing you to sympathize with the character’s point of view (but I don’t yet have all those vignettes done for the different races).
…but at the same time, a reader with a personal bias will look down on whoever they please, as though my Elves have a choice in the matter, because the human bias is always there. I feel like, even if I write it perfectly, someone might say that the wind Elves are capricious, hedonistic sinners and the metal Elves are hateful, violent demons.
I guess the question then becomes: do people like that read a lot of fantasy?
It’s hard to say. A lot of fantasy novels do subscribe to traditional moral standards (which may be because of the writer and not the reader); a lot of other fantasy novels subscribe to whatever they feel like. But it’s hard to relate, for some of us, to a barbarian or a viking without at least a twinge of “what a disgusting person” based on our own civility. So why not make that barbarian a paragon of freedom? Why not have that viking be an adventurer instead of the pillager he is?
But then we get to the Sesame Street problem. If we make cookie monster eat veggies and make Oscar not-so-grouchy, we lose diversity. That show is supposed to prepare children for the world, where obese gluttons and unimpressed dickheads await. Diversity in characters adds to a setting, and to realism, even if it’s not something we necessarily like.
I think this rant is quite long enough. The equation is too complex, and the human variable determines everything. What do you think?