Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Author's Thumbprint

Odd title, I know. Don't worry. I haven't been arrested and fingerprinted, nor have I been leaving incriminating prints around, but only because I haven't been doing anything nefarious at all. (Feel free to believe or disbelieve that statement.)

No, this post is about the "fingerprints" an author leaves on his work. How much of what an author puts down on the page is based upon who they are and what they believe in, and how much should there be?

First let me say this, no matter what an author does there's going to be a bit of them contained in their stories. This is inevitable. This is part of an author's style. The sheer fact that story exists can be attributed to someone wanting to put a piece of themselves out there, and every story is at first birthed within an author's mind. But does it always stay that way?

Let me give you an example from my own writing. Within that last few months I wrote a book. Not a great book, but not too bad for my first try. At least I proved to myself I could sustain a long term effort on one project.

In this novel there's a character that smokes pot on a regular basis. This was always going to be a part of this character, one of his defining traits. I don't like people who smoke pot more than occasionally. From my personal experience I've found them to be, well, unmotivated idiots. Again, this is from my personal experience and I'm sure there are exceptions out there, however I have yet to meet them. Also, I don't like the smell of weed. Really, really don't like it.

So, from the beginning this pot smoking character started off with a negative tone, in my mind. As I was writing the character began to change. He became more complex, more nuanced. I found aspects hidden inside him that changed my understanding of what he was. Instead of being just a one note character, a warning against drug use, he became a major factor in the story. I still don't like pot smokers, but the characterization in my story didn't suffer because of it.

I still have my opinions, but instead of the story being all about my views, and being blatant about it, it has a life of its own. Contrast that with something I was reading recently, where not only could I see the author's thumbprint, it was jumping up at my face. It was to the point it distracted me from the story, causing it to suffer. I did still enjoy the book, but it was tinged with a bit of disappointment.

I'm not going to mention the book or the author. I do want to be published someday, and it's unprofessional to go around slagging other people's work. I will say this though, it's made me more aware of my own thumbprint on the page, and while I do want to develop my own style I want to make sure that my stories don't suffer because of it.

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