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citymouse
08-21-2008, 09:25 PM
Everyone,
In his book Robbie Ross: Oscar Wilde’s devoted friend. Jonathan Fryer quotes Wild as he replies to a critic writing in the Scots Observer. The review is on Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray.
“Your critic . . ., sir, commits the absolutely unpardonable crime of trying to confuse the artist with his subject matter…One stands remote from one’s subject-matter. One creates it, and one contemplates it. The further away the subject-matter is, the more freely can an artist work. Your reviewer suggests that I do not make it sufficiently clear whether I prefer virtue to wickedness or wickedness to virtue. An artist sir, has no ethical sympathies at all.”

Setting aside your personal attitudes about Wilde the man, do you concur that a) readers/critics often marry or as Wilde believes, confuse the artist/author with the subject matter of his/her writing and b) the further you stand from your subject the more objectively, honestly, compassionately or even ruthlessly you can treat your characters?
The first question is pretty straight forward and I believe the answers will be pretty predictable. The second...?

Comments?
C

Tocotin
08-21-2008, 09:56 PM
Everyone,
the further you stand from your subject the more objectively, honestly, compassionately or even ruthlessly or you can treat your characters?

I think there is a moment when I am very emotionally close to my subject and my characters: the moment when I decide to write down the story. But when I actually start writing, I have to back off, describe the plot and watch the people interact with each other. My likes/dislikes are irrelevant at that point. If truth be told, my control over my folks is rather superficial, the only thing I have to be careful about is keeping the story in line.

gypsyscarlett
08-22-2008, 12:24 AM
Everyone,
In his book Robbie Ross: Oscar Wilde’s devoted friend. Jonathan Fryer quotes Wild as he replies to a critic writing in the Scots Observer. The review is on Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray.
“Your critic . . ., sir, commits the absolutely unpardonable crime of trying to confuse the artist with his subject matter…One stands remote from one’s subject-matter. One creates it, and one contemplates it. The further away the subject-matter is, the more freely can an artist work. Your reviewer suggests that I do not make it sufficiently clear whether I prefer virtue to wickedness or wickedness to virtue. An artist sir, has no ethical sympathies at all.”

Setting aside your personal attitudes about Wilde the man, do you concur that a) readers/critics often marry or as Wilde believes, confuse the artist/author with the subject matter of his/her writing and b) the further you stand from your subject the more objectively, honestly, compassionately or even ruthlessly you can treat your characters?
The first question is pretty straight forward and I believe the answers will be pretty predictable. The second...?

Comments?
C

Hi,

Good questions.

Question One: Absolutely readers/critics confuse authors with their subject matter. I have to laugh whenever I read something like, "Agatha Chrisite was a very shy and quiet woman. She didn't look like someone who would write murder stories." I'd like to know what a mystery writer is supposed to look like. A crazed hag? Lady Macbeth sleepwalking?

Of course, this happens all the time to actors, too. People actually were angry when it was discovered that Doris Day wasn't only not a virgin, but she'd had fun getting around. They called her a phony. Uhm...hello! She was playing fictional characters!

Question Two: Again, I agree completely. I remain as neutral as possible while writing. I want to observe and then depict what my characters are feeling and doing. I aim to tell their story with no moral judgement. In that way, I regard myself as a reporter.

Mad Queen
08-22-2008, 01:02 AM
do you concur that a) readers/critics often marry or as Wilde believes, confuse the artist/author with the subject matter of his/her writing
All the time. Many readers and critics don't understand that the author's opinions don't have to be the same as the protagonist's opinions. These readers must have read too many traditional good vs evil stories and expect the protagonist to be a hero whose values reflect the writer's values.

Another common assumption is that every story has a moral lesson, which is definitely not true. When a criminal gets away with his crimes, some readers assume that the writer thinks it's okay to break the law, otherwise the criminal would have been punished. But all the writer is trying to say is that some criminals get away with their crimes. The writer tells how it is rather than how it should be. It's not a moral lesson, 'crime pays' vs 'crime doesn't pay'.

b) the further you stand from your subject the more objectively, honestly, compassionately or even ruthlessly you can treat your characters?
I don't know if any writer can keep themselves far from their characters, but it's important to know that the character is not you, otherwise the character is going to become a Mary Sue. But the most important thing to keep in mind, in my opinion, is that the story is more important than the character. Of course you want your good characters to succeed, but if the story will be better if your characters fail, then they will fail. The story is all that matters. Writing is not wishful thinking, at least not the kind of writing I care about.

JeanneTGC
08-22-2008, 09:50 AM
Regarding A -- Take a look at anything written about Ben Affleck or Tom Cruise in the past several years, for easy examples. There is nothing objective being written about them, because the critics are focused on their personal lives versus their professional work and therefore judge their professional work in the light of their personal lives. So, yes, I think critics constantly associate the artist (in whatever aspect of the arts they're working in) with their artistic creation, and vice versa, for good or for bad.

Regarding B -- I am the God. And, as the God, I make the decisions. I love all my creations, because they came from me. But if a darling must be killed for my greater God vision, so be it. However, I need to care about what happens, or else what I create will lack passion. So, yes, be removed and objective, but you still have to care enough to make it the best it can be.

tehuti88
08-22-2008, 06:15 PM
Setting aside your personal attitudes about Wilde the man, do you concur that a) readers/critics often marry or as Wilde believes, confuse the artist/author with the subject matter of his/her writing and b) the further you stand from your subject the more objectively, honestly, compassionately or even ruthlessly you can treat your characters?

A. I've had experience with readers assuming that just because I write about something (usually really horrific things), I must agree with it or find it all right. Not often, but it happens. It was infuriating! It's hard to believe that people can be so simplistic. If this were so then every murder mystery writer would be okay with murdering somebody, and everybody who writes about unicorns would know some personally. Some of the awful stuff I write about is just to explore character reactions and emotions, not because it's something I believe in. I also write it because the world isn't perfect, so neither should my fiction be.

B. That being said, I do agree with a lot of the stuff I write--just not all of it. So at times, the above reader assumption would be correct. I'm incredibly close to my work and my characters, more so than a lot of people would find healthy. And THAT being said, I'm probably more ruthless toward my good guys and compassionate toward my bad guys than I could be toward any similar people in real life. In fact, I know I am. I'd never do such cruel things as the stuff I do to my good guys if they were my friends, and I'd never sympathize with some of my bad guys if they were real. But in my fiction, I can do both with ease.

Sometimes keeping a distance from one's work helps one write more honestly and realistically, but for some people like myself, you have to be close to it to get the job done right. If I were distanced from my work then I wouldn't feel for it, and if I didn't feel for it, I'd have no point in making it as honest and compassionate and ruthless as I possibly can.

So, Wilde was right on some things but not on others, obviously. :D

Claudia Gray
08-22-2008, 06:53 PM
I've been told I "don't look like a vampire writer." Which is a good thing, I guess.

As for the Wilde quote, I think that it's good for writers to have emotional distance from the things they're writing about. This doesn't mean not caring, not agreeing or not being passionate about your subject or characters or theme; it just means having the ability to step back and see other points of view, other perspectives.

Phaeal
08-22-2008, 08:35 PM
Heh, Stephen King has often written about the sidelong looks some critics have given him, as if he might suddenly cackle and rush them with a chainsaw. I believe one of his favorite questions from the audience is: "What terrible trauma did you suffer in childhood to make you write what you do?"

The God metaphor is a good one. I look on myself as a good sort of goddess who loves her creations but who has to give them the free will to do what they're going to do, even if that's something very foolish or naughty.

dianeP
08-22-2008, 08:42 PM
If I read a book with any social or political commentary, I'll assume the author agrees with the views he's given his characters.

I probably need to work more to distance myself from the characters I write.

C A Winters
08-22-2008, 08:47 PM
#1. It seems to be the nature of a reader to do such a thing. Even I, a fiction writer who knows better, catch myself occasionally making a personality or character judgment about some authors. Of course, as a fiction author, I stop and correct my thinking!

#2. I regard myself as a producer/director of my WIP's, period.

~grace~
08-22-2008, 08:57 PM
do you concur that a) readers/critics often marry or as Wilde believes, confuse the artist/author with the subject matter of his/her writing and

yes.


b) do you concur that the further you stand from your subject the more objectively, honestly, compassionately or even ruthlessly you can treat your characters?

I'm not sure I understand the question. Do you mean the less like me they are? I feel like there's a little bit of my in each character but none of them is particularly like me... generally I just feel like God and do as I wish to them. They are there to serve me and my story. Bwahaha.

EriRae
08-22-2008, 09:27 PM
#1: Great. So what you're all saying (those of you who say you have trouble distinguishing between author and character/subject matter/etc.) is that I'm going to be viewed as a homosexual Nazi-lover if my first novel (about a homosexual neonazi) is published. I'm actually a straight liberal democrat. That's sad.

#2: I destroyed my characters' lives. Yes, I think I treated them fairly. They're neonazis.

willietheshakes
08-22-2008, 09:56 PM
Wow. I'm stunned by the responses here. I don't doubt that some readers conflate the author with the work, but the idea that it's virtually inevitable? I fundamentally disagree. And as a critic -- jeesh. That's pretty insulting. And I don't think accurate.

~grace~
08-23-2008, 12:01 AM
Wow. I'm stunned by the responses here.

Hey. I didn't say *I* thought "yes." I just said a lot of people do.

Even:

My first novel was a fantasy I wrote when I was 15, and the story began with the MC's father selling her to pirates. And I was talking about this at dinner one day and my parents got all huffy and were like, "Oh, so you think parents would just SELL their children to pirates? That's what you think of us? That we would do that to you?" And I was like, "...no...it's...fiction..."

I did not discuss my writing at the table ever again.

So I'm not saying that readers think writers=MCs, I just think that the common thinking is that writers write what they know, both specifically and emotionally, and people don't know things unless they experience them. (that was still common thinking, not me.)

C A Winters
08-23-2008, 12:39 AM
Wow. I'm stunned by the responses here. I don't doubt that some readers conflate the author with the work, but the idea that it's virtually inevitable? I fundamentally disagree. And as a critic -- jeesh. That's pretty insulting. And I don't think accurate.

No one here said it was 100% And if what you say reflects your feelings as a reader, you've proven it. However, just from the response ratio here, it would seem that the majority rule is yes, it happens

Mad Queen
08-23-2008, 12:59 AM
Does anyone want an example of a critic confusing the artist with his subject matter? Off On A Tangent: Short Fiction Reviews. (http://www.sfsite.com/columns/tangent275.htm) Go to the paragraph that starts with 'I really don't know where to begin in describing "The Goosle" by Margo Lanagan...'. This link quotes the actual short story: Textual misreadings. (http://ofblog.blogspot.com/2008/07/textual-misreadings.htmlhttp://ofblog.blogspot.com/2008/07/textual-misreadings.html)

willietheshakes
08-23-2008, 01:44 AM
I enjoy reading about who the author is...or in some cases meeting the author and befriending them...but I would never confuse their story with their person.

And speaking as one who has been met and so befriended, thanks be for that! Especially once the NEXT book hits! (I'm practicing already: Yes, it's about a writer in his late thirties. Yes, he's struggling with his second book. Yes, he's got a ten-year-old son. No, there's no way he could possibly be confused with me!)

gypsyscarlett
08-23-2008, 02:27 AM
Wow. I'm stunned by the responses here. I don't doubt that some readers conflate the author with the work, but the idea that it's virtually inevitable? I fundamentally disagree. And as a critic -- jeesh. That's pretty insulting. And I don't think accurate.

Hi,

Don't worry. I don't think anyone here has meant to imply that all readers confuse authors with their subject. I certainly didn't, anyway.

I've just observed in my time some silly folks who can't separate author/subject or actor/character.

I mean, you always here stories about some Soap Actress being screamed at by an inane fan for, "stealing so-and-so's baby" or something. What can ya do about people like that? :)

roncouch
08-23-2008, 02:50 AM
a) readers/critics often marry or as Wilde believes, confuse the artist/author with the subject matter of his/her writing and

Yes, of this I have no doubt.

b) the further you stand from your subject the more objectively, honestly, compassionately or even ruthlessly you can treat your characters?

No, I associate closely with my subject(s) without adversely affecting honesty, compassion, etc. I have a need to "become as one" of the characters.

dianeP
08-23-2008, 02:58 AM
#1: Great. So what you're all saying (those of you who say you have trouble distinguishing between author and character/subject matter/etc.) is that I'm going to be viewed as a homosexual Nazi-lover if my first novel (about a homosexual neonazi) is published.



Hi,

No, I wouldn't go that far. :) But...

In one book I read, one of the characters goes on about how parents spoil their kids, don't really take care of them, bla, bla bla. The way it was presented, (there was no real relevence to the story) I had the impression the author probably felt the same way.

Later, he goes on about the quality of manufactured items today compared to the old days, how things break down so easily these days... I also assumed the author felt this way.

Just little things like that.:D

tehuti88
08-23-2008, 07:44 PM
I'm surprised how many writers feel themselves to be like "God" or a producer/director in regards to their characters; that's not how I feel about writing fiction at all. I'm not deriding their approach, it's just not the one that works for me and, honestly, I've never even considered it. I don't feel like God at all to my characters. I do all kinds of Godlike things to them, but I feel more like I'm just transcribing what's happening, like a passive observer, or rather like fate. I know I'm controlling it but it doesn't feel like control at all, it just feels like it "is."


No, I associate closely with my subject(s) without adversely affecting honesty, compassion, etc. I have a need to "become as one" of the characters.

roncouch's response is basically what I myself must do to write characters convincingly. If I were "God" or a director I'd be too far removed to write anything well.