Writing is personal, it is an intimate investigation of your psyche – whether a book is about the author or not, or whatever degree it is. Someone once said that anything, from the china we choose, to the clothes we wear and the way we shape our handwriting are full of meaning, like a personal thumb-print, a kaleidoscope of self. It is the same with writing: choice of words, habits, themes – the character traits we portray as likeable or forgiveable and the ones we give the villains. The means we choose to tell a story, are intimate and personal – and that is partly what is so interesting in examining an author’s body of work.
But writing, quite obviously is also public. And as many critics of recent bestsellers have shown, these very personal means of telling a story are examined closely – and with good reason. While some may just be ways of journalists to cash in on the success (I read an article, for example, on the negative impact of so called “sick-lit” like John Green’s brilliant The Fault in Our Stars on children, who shouldn’t encounter anything that wasn’t a perfect, beautiful and healthy specimen of teenager-hood), others may be genuine concerns for the emotional well-being of especially young readers. I myself have shared in the concern, for example, about Twilight’s message regarding the connection between attempted suicide and getting a boyfriend back.
As a reader, these comments are easy to make and I have made a million of them over the years. It’s natural, isn’t it? You love books and you love it when it’s done right – but the more you read, the more opinions you gather, and the more you want to talk about them, too.
But I’m a writer, too – and what’s more, suddenly and still shockingly, a published one. And where for my entire life, writing has been that intimate exploration of the self, I am suddenly faced with the possibility of a public. I am not deluded, not the kind of public best-sellers enjoy, but a public non-the-less: readers, who I would prefer not to let down.
And suddenly I am wondering whether my female lead is a role-model, if she is strong enough – or if the male lead is kind and good enough and not pushy or manipulating. I find myself reading through the manuscript for any implications I might have missed while I was busy focusing on others.
A writer’s responsibility in this regard, seems to grow with the popularity their story gains – but by that point, it is far too late. In the end, our stories tell the readers something about us – it may not always be exactly what they think it is, but there is always something: our background, culture, education, weaknesses, the things we care about, what turns us on.
I like female characters who are a little shy – who aren’t perfect; women who hurt sometimes and don’t always like themselves. I like people who have struggled, people with history and scars. At the same time, I like them intelligent, opinionated and caring; people who value kindness. I don’t know what kind of role-model they make, but they are the kind of people I want to read about – and maybe in the end, an author’s responsibility doesn’t lie in writing a book that is devoid of anything that might possibly be problematic, but in the way they react when it comes up. That of course, is something I can only speculate on, maybe the future will tell.