No, I didn't intend for that to be some clever turn of phrase, it was just the most succinct way I could think of to sum up the topics in this post.
Last week a discussion was started on a forum I frequent. The discussion started when someone posted an alarming "find" in a book where the author had "obviously" interwoven his/her own beliefs into the fiction. I have no idea what book the person was talking about because they didn't share the title, but it got me thinking about just how "obvious" this was.
What I'm wondering is if the "obvious" viewpoint in this case wasn't that of the character rather than the author.
Sure, it's possible that an author with a particular world view crafted a novel in such a way that his/her view is carried like a standard from start to finish. Most of the time, unless the author says up front that their novel is a celebration or denouncement of [touchy subject or belief system], readers pick up on this pretty quick and it rarely has the effect the writer hoped for. In general, readers want entertainment rather than soapboxing and finding the former masquerading as the latter can lead to reflexive book tossing.
I think it's far more likely that the viewpoint in question was the belief of the character, and that's where the "problem" comes in.
How do readers separate the beliefs of a character from that of the character's creator? A devout believer can write an Atheist, just an Atheist can write a faithful priest if such a character fits their narrative. Bigotry can run amok in a book written by someone who finds the practice distasteful, and the words uttered by the characters will be just as hateful as if the author was writing from behind the eyeholes of a white hood. Cowards can write the heroes they never were and the outcast can build the perfect prom queen. It requires research, but that's true of most anything.
Do you ever worry that a reader might mistake something fictional in your book for a very real part of yourself? Have you created a distasteful or repugnant character that's so real the people around you began to wonder if there was a darker side to your personality they'd never encountered before?
Convincing characters, and those that are multi-dimensional have to be real enough to jump off the page and that can't happen if writers water down their personality for fear of having a character's personality traits assigned as their own. And it truly surprises me when people have a hard time separating fact from fiction. (Worries me as in I start to wonder if they think Stephen King really has monsters in his closet and a rabid dog chained in the backyard.)
It's fiction. By definition it's false.
Yes, writers put a bit of themselves into everything they create, but what they put in is their effort and heart and creativity. Bias and opinons are necessary evils to make characters as realistic as possible. Without them, there's no chance of an antagonist because no one thinks differently than anyone else.
(This, of course, assumes the writer DIDN'T intentionally set out to showcase a specific viewpoint. There are propaganda books that do this. There are allegories that do this. There are satires that do this. They have their audience, and the readers who open those books usually know what they're in for.)
It's a bit of a two edged sword hearing that a character resonates so well with a reader that the reader sees them as a real person. On one hand, you've done your job as a writer and created something where the readers can immerse themselves for a few hours. On the other, you know there's that kernel that makes the same reader who enjoyed the book look at you in a different light.
Apparently, a writer not only puts him/herself into a piece, but takes a bit of that piece into him/herself, even if that wasn't their intention.