Respecting our characters and their cultures

One of my favorite bloggers, EclecticAli recently shared a link to this article on respecting other tribal cultures. It hit me quite hard, especially this line:

Culturally, elders tell us, “only ask about what you need to know.  Don’t ask what you want to know.”

This horrified me, because it is exactly contrary to what I do when I write. Now, I know that fictional “tribes” are not the same as real world peoples, but I try to think of them in the same terms, so that my writing is real. And now I’m wondering if I’ve accidentally stepped all over every culture I’ve ever “invented”.

I’ve run into this problem before. The Den of Shadows board, forums to support my favorite author, has an Ask the Residents area where you can ask any fictional character of her anything you care to. And most of what I ask is fairly painful, for them. I think. I don’t know, they’re fictional, but again, I try to treat fictional characters as real for better writing. Anyways.

I managed to seriously offend a leader of a rebel gang, by assumed the accusations his people were imprisoned for were true. Stupid mistake, and I doubt the author herself actually cared, but I felt awful for stepping all over this guy just like the ruling leaders had. I was no better than they were.

And all the time, I am dredging up these painful events in these characters’ lives simply because I am curious. I don’t need to know any of it, but I want to.

And it’s the same with my own characters. I poke and prod and tease and ferret out every painful detail I can, because I want to know. I can lie to myself a little better as the author, pretending it need to write better, but a lot things, I really don’t. I’m just horrifically curious.

This is all a bit of a moot point, because I’m not going to stop writing. And I’m not going to stop digging like a madwoman for every scrap of detail I can get, because that’s just the way I write. But it is something to think about, and something I’ve never given a thought to before.

Perhaps I can set aside some sacred land in my own head for those who are tired of this pesky woman they call author.



4 thoughts on “Respecting our characters and their cultures

  1. “Perhaps I can set aside some sacred land in my own head for those who are tired of this pesky woman they call author.”
    LOVE that line and thought. I honestly hadn’t thought about connecting that post to my fictional writing… perhaps because I have convinced myself that I DO need to know the answers to all these questions. Hmm….


  2. Yes.

    This post throws into sharp relief what I do with my characters! I poke and prod until I get details, lots of details from them. Sometimes, I throw them into different situations just to see how they act but usually the painful stuff really does make them realize something that they didn’t before. If it is painful then they usually learn from it. Most of the time, anyway.

    One of my characters went through a really painful shift within herself when she realized something that she thought had always been false had been real and I kept digging and digging until more revelations came up, but I really should have stopped with the first realization because she was a mess for a week afterwards. She’s getting better and since she had to deal with all this horribleness at once, she’s due for a nice long rest but I felt very, very bad for her. It actually upset ME writing it! (Does this happen to anyone else?)

    Anyway, great post and insights. I probably should leave my characters be for awhile. They have enough trouble without me dredging up anymore painful secrets.



    • Isn’t this a wonderful/horrible eye opener?

      And no, you’re not alone. I feel bad for upsetting Someone else’s characters- I am DEVASTATED when I “have to” hurt mine. There’s a scene toward the end of Asylum where Naj and Seth fight, and Naj was so broken afterward… It was simply dreadful. I’m tearing up a bit now just thinking about it. 😦


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