Taking offense over a character

I was doing some research a while ago, for an idea rolling around in my head that hasn’t quite reached the “ready to be written” point. In the course of this research, part of which took place in a discussion forum, I ran across someone who got seriously bent out of shape at the way my character was to be portrayed. Specifically that he/she was to be the bad guy.

This particular person was upset because this character was potentially going to have had a sex change operation, and they felt that having the character be the bad guy was going to give anyone who’s had a sex change operation a bad reputation.

What I wanted to say, but didn’t, was: It’s a book!!! It’s a work of fiction, and it is not billed as anything other than a work of fiction. It is all made up, in my head (though I suppose it’s entirely possible for it to happen somewhere in the world, or to have already happened somewhere in the world), and it is not – let me repeat, NOT – intended to express an opinion on anyone, of any gender, race, shape, size, intelligence, etc.

I don’t write science fiction. Unless I switch genres, my bad guy can’t be some blue alien from planet Zargonat. My bad guy has to be a bad guy from right here on planet Earth, and that means being human. Sometimes they’re white, sometimes black, hispanic, asian, etc. Sometimes male, sometimes female. They might be gay or they might be straight. Married, single, a parent or not, a brother or a sister, a lawyer or a doctor or a homeless guy on the street.

Just because I choose a particular race, gender, profession or family situation for my character does mean that I am saying all people that fit that description are like my bad guy. If I write about a mafia hitman, I’m not claiming all Italian men are in the mafia and willing to kill for money.

Books, like movies or television shows, are intended for entertainment – at least, mine are. If you’re going to get offended because my character is *insert whatever it is that’s offending you here*, then maybe you’re overthinking things. It’s supposed to be for pleasure, for fun.

Most of us who write don’t generally write characters with the intention to offend readers. But when we write about humans, and we’re not writing science fiction or fantasy, we’re limited to writing about the way humans really are. That means we’re limited to the genders, races, family situations, etc., that actually exist. Portraying someone as villainous does not indicate that we think that everyone of that gender, race, family situation, whatever is like that. It’s simply a choice because it fits the storyline.

If you’ve read a particular author before, and you know from that previous experience, that that particular author deliberately potrays certain groups of people in a negative light, that’s one thing. But before you assume that an author has deliberately tried to paint an entire group of people with the same negative brush, why not give them a chance? Read the book first and decide if the author was being a jerk or if they simply went with what worked for their story – maybe even what gave the story a really incredible twist.

3 thoughts on “Taking offense over a character

    1. What I found so funny about it was that I asked a simple question about the operations and the science (hormones and such) and this person just basically jumped down my throat as if I’d instead said that I thought anyone who had a sex change operation was some kind of child molester or something. It just floored me.

      And yes, I agree about the author thing.

  1. Interesting… One of my favourite things about mystery books (when I actually have time to read them) is that it could be your neighbour, your friend’s boyfriend and yes even that “weird” guy down the street who “did it”. It’s a special talent you writers have to make a twist out of the mundane.

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