Characters, touchy subjects and framing

What is a woman's role in war? Depends who you talk to, even amongst characters.
What is a woman’s role in war? Depends who you talk to, even amongst characters.

While going through the revision portion of my novel, one of my readers expressed dislike for a statement made by one of my character. The character is a woman who mused aloud, something to the extent, that she could not imagine being a soldier. I personally have nothing against women as soldiers as long as they have the skills to fulfill their duties and the passion for it — however, this particular character has different views than mine, because lets face it, everyone is going to have different views —  even our characters.

This female character of mine is not overly feminist, though she could possibly be labeled a pre-first wave feminist. She lives in a male-dominated world that is similar to mid-1700s France, but believes women should be able operate businesses, have an education, inherit wealth and property, and have the freedom to marry as they please. In the current timeline, these ideals are slowly growing less controversial but other cultural beliefs about a woman’s place hold firm, such as the notion that women stay at home while the men go to war, and this particular woman is not about to go against all cultural norms.

Even so, I still consider her a largely strong female character. She stands her ground when it comes to marriage, especially since most women of her age and status would have been married off by now. She keeps her back straight even though she is the center of gossip with her single status. She is also well educated and eventually will serve as a diplomat, a rare position for a woman. But even so, she is a product of her culture and her statement is not kosher to modern women. And you know what? That is OK.

Characters can express opinions that could make you blush with how inappropriate, biased, bigoted, racist, etc. they are. And that is fine. There are people with all sorts of beliefs/opinions, right or wrong. What matters is how you frame these characters or touchy subjects. Framing is everything. Are the character’s actions, statements, or thoughts framed as being right or wrong? You need to be constantly aware of how your characters are framed.

In my case, I have other women characters with varying thoughts on the war and women’s role in it. A few even get to fight in it. And that is one way that you can counteract unkosher beliefs for modern readers: offer a variety of viewpoints/beliefs from different characters. Also know that none of these differing viewpoints have to be overly radical for their time periods to the point that they are unbelievable. My suggestion is to research existing, real life “radicals” of different time periods. Not only will you learn a lot but you will gain an appreciation for the forerunners of several modern movements who were truly ahead of their time.

Good example
Good example of imperfect characters who behaviors are not cast in a good light.

And other important framing tool is the story itself. Show over the course of your tale the errors of the character’s way of thinking, even if in the end, the character learns nothing or holds firm to their beliefs — let’s face it, even in real life, you can’t win them all. “The Great Gatsby” is a pretty good example of this. You have the narrator/observer, who is sharing the events around him, and quite the assembly of characters, some of which are pretty petty, vain, racist, and sexist. Yet through the course of the story and Nick’s POV, we know we are not supposed to like these characters or their behaviors.

I am sure there are other methods that writers find helpful for putting their characters in context or checking their “ways” that lack political correctness in order to not promote them. Don’t shy away from characters that are not politically correct, but as a writer, know how you want to frame them to properly showcase what your own beliefs are. But note that you can’t please everyone, some of you readers won’t read between the lines, and some of your readers won’t agree with your own personal leanings — it’s just how the world works.


Published by smwright

Sarah Wright is the author of The Heritage Lost Series and several other works of speculative fiction. Professionally, she works as a staff writer and editor at a newspaper/magazine company. She enjoys interweaving her love of history into her writing, even in the most fantastic settings.

2 thoughts on “Characters, touchy subjects and framing

  1. I completely agree. Unique characters–even politically incorrect ones–can serve a great purpose in writing. Your post reminds me of the character Cotton from the show King of the Hill. He’s definitely not politically correct, but he’s one of the best characters on there!

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