Fictional Characters Are Fictional
Knowing what I know now, I am not sure that I would have written (with my husband) the thriller LT. COMMANDER MOLLIE SANDERS.
While I have published two other novels, this is the one that acts as a lightning rod, drawing criticism about the female character as if she were a real person.
What part of she is a fictional character is not clear to people?
Here is what I have learned:
When fictional female characters are in roles that are traditionally male, plus they are in the military where every real military person has his or her own opinion of the way things are, subjective opinions of the character greatly influence the opinions about the overall story.
Thus the reviews on Amazon for LCDR MOLLIE SANDERS are all over the place, from an ex-military man who gave the story five stars to current military personnel who do not think the story is “authentic.”
Meanwhile, my husband is a member of the U.S. Naval Institute and we did a great deal of research for this story. But in this particular case the perception of the character trumps the perception of the story.
In advising other writers tackling the task of portraying women in non-traditional roles, I would certainly say they should write what they want to write. But they probably do have to be prepared for coming up against people’s very personal opinions about female and male roles.
My husband and I wrote about a woman who is driven to be better than the men in order to be accepted by the men. I know this need personally because, when I got an M.B.A. at Wharton in the late ‘70s, I majored in finance to prove I was as good as the male students.
Writing fictional characters requires creating realistic but not real people who may be larger than life in order to drive a story forward. Obviously the parts of a fiction character’s life must be cohesive, and the character must act consistently within the established persona.
This consistency requires, while writing, checking each action by the character against what has been established for how the character would act. If the character suddenly changes, say from being timid all the time to being brave in the face of danger, there needs to be a believable reason for the change.
I actually think that maintaining consistency is one of the fun things in writing. It is usually easier to be inconsistent. Having to be consistent is a challenge that I enjoy trying to meet. But then, I am a writer who appreciates the opportunity to revise any errors I may have made in a first or second draft.
In conclusion, I will have to accept that Lt. Commander Mollie Sanders as a character is going to continue to be misunderstood by many people. That said, as I believe in this character, I will just have to accept the criticism and still root for her.
She is also the co-founder of the online marketing company www.MillerMosaicLLC.com