One of the cornerstones of my writing style is my fanatical dedication to character voice. It’s very important to me that every single word of the narration feels as if it’s coming from my point of view character and not from me. That applies to everything. What’s observed and what’s ignored, what metaphors or similies are used, the exact words chosen to describe something… it’s just so important to me that those things always feel like they’re attached to the narrator. I want my POV characters to be the lens through which the entire story is observed. This is something I love about my writing!
But I also make a point to have my characters be flawed. So what do I do when those flaws come through and infect the narrative?
It’s hard. Even though my characters are the ones telling the story, it can still be very offputting. My primary narrator is a traditional sort of young man who’s never been in a situation to have his very default views challenged. Though he grows a lot throughout the planned four books, he’s still, for example, scandalized and confused by LGBT people. When he sees his first black woman, he performs the faux pas of immediately comparing her skin to coffee. And sometimes it’s just basic stuff, like the fact that he’s twenty, inexperienced, and notices women in an entirely sexual way.
While that’s him, and not me, I need to make sure that the reader knows that I know it’s not okay! So then we reach a point where a trade-off has to be made.
I’ve come up with a few little tricks. One is to have him actually vocalize his ugly thoughts whenever possible, so that someone else in the scene who’s more forward minded can be annoyed by him. This also helps creates a diversity of opinion within the story, which immediately makes it feel more real.
But people don’t always just say what they’re thinking outloud, and that’s when I have to admit that I’m still struggling daily with what to do. I don’t like to sanitize my characters. I like them flawed. I like them real. I like their predjudices, hang-ups, and ugly thoughts. At the same time, I think it’s extremely important to make it apparant to my readers that they are flaws.
I tweak and I tweak. I ask opinions from my workshop friends, my agent, my editors. I make sure people know that I want to be told is something is coming off the wrong way. And I just do my best and constantly look to improve. I think that’s all any of us can do.