Rachel’s sunday quickie: your momma don’t work here

So the topic for this Sunday is whether or not I agree with the following: “Authors are like parents to their characters.”

The short answer is no, yuck.

The long answer is a bit more complicated.  I can certainly see where the comparison comes from. Authors do give characters life. We give them eye colors and curly hair and a nose that’s not perhaps what they would like. But unlike biological motherhood, we also give them personalities, flaws, histories, bad love affairs, and secrets, which takes way more work than just handing over a chromosome.

Even beyond that, though I think Sarah Monette had it right when she said that her relationship with her characters was anything but motherly.  I’ve never been a mother, but I’m pretty sure if I treated (or even thought about) my children the way I treat my characters, defax would be knocking on my door. It’s a mother’s job to encourage her children, to support them and help them as they grow. A writer, however, must stomp on her characters mercilessly. I never let them take the easy way out, I never cut them any slack, and every night is off to bed without supper, that is if I let them sleep at all. (I have a really awful habit of never feeding my characters, or letting them sleep, or pee.)

If I did treat my characters as my children, I think it would kill my book. For me, at least, the author is less like a mother and more like an incompetent and mysterious God who keeps changing the past when things turn out wrong. She is also cruel, capricious, and prone to plucking people out of the world without notice. With a mother like her, who needs enemies?

1 Response to “Rachel’s sunday quickie: your momma don’t work here”

  1. 1 mlronald
    March 22, 2009 at 11:10 pm

    I wonder if that first stage of character creation is the closest point to being a parent to the characters. After that, the plot gets going, and it’s just more fun to break them.

    I do sometimes feel parental toward my stories, but that’s a different matter.

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