Are you a voyeur or a participant?

The Highest Price to Pay by Maisey Yates
Insert self to right. (Admittedly that's quite tempting...)
Do you read to watch the characters or to be the characters?

It’s often said of romance that the reader wants to put herself in the heroine’s place and imagine it’s her that the hero is in love with. This of course makes two assumptions, one that the reader is a woman and two, that there’s a hero and a heroine and nobody else. Neither of which are necessarily true, though women are still the biggest readers or romance. But those assumptions are a whole other can of worms; I want to talk about the idea of putting oneself in the place of the characters in the book.

There are some stories where a character who is a reader’s proxy is essential, so they can ask the pertinent questions. Doctor Watson is our reader proxy to say “Good Lord, Holmes, how did you work that out?” Sidekicks of various kinds can often serve this function – Dr. Who companions come to mind.

Stowaway cover - artwork by Anne Cain
But where do I fit in here?
People often talk about “identifying” with a character, but what do they really mean by it? Characters should be identifiable as human (unless they’re not human, of course) with human motives and desires, even if the reader doesn’t share those motives and desires. They have to be fundamentally understandable. We understand the idea of ambition and greed for power, even if we’d never arrange for a co-worker to be framed for embezzlement to secure a promotion, or have a rival for gang leadership killed. So it’s certainly possible to identify with a character without thinking of yourself in their place.

I personally have never “got” the idea of putting myself in the shoes of one of the lovers in a romance, not even in straight romance where the shoes that would fit me are bit more obvious. Who do you even choose in a m/m romance? I want to watch the characters having their romance and adventures, and root for them to win through. I want to aspire to being as clever, brave or determined as they might be. But I can’t say I’m seeing myself down amongst them in the story having this stuff happening to me.

Is this maybe more of a writerly trait than a readerly one? As I writer I’m used to the idea of moving the characters around and having them do stuff and suffer reverses and troubles. And though they come from my mind, once they are on paper they also become something outside of me, so I can’t just think of them as me with a different face. Am I more a voyeur of characters than an identifier with characters?

How about you? Do you fantasise yourself into the story, or are you watching the shenanigans from the edges?

Advertisements

5 thoughts on “Are you a voyeur or a participant?

  1. From a reader POV – I do tend to immerse myself into the story, but not actually become part of it. I’ll scream at the characters when they do something idiotic – but at the same time, I’ll berate the author for throwing in a gratuitous scene or sub-plot. I haven’t actually pictured myself as one of the characters since high school 😉 It’s hard to get to that point nowadays as so many characters do things I absolutely know better than to do (esp in romances). LOL

    As a writer, as you say, it’s different. The characters spring from my mind, and I have to understand them intimately or they’ll never come out on paper in a realistic way. But they do have a habit of surprising me – but then, I surprise myself many times to that’s okay. And when they reach that stage of being able to surprise me, I give them their head and follow along. And I think at that point, I become more of the voyeur than the participant. It’s only when they get too far off the beaten track that I know I need to get more involved again.

  2. Ooh, tricky one. I see the story as I write, and I enter into the head and emotions of the POV character to write the scenes, but I don’t feel I become them. When reading books, I might identify with certain characters because they have qualities I aspire to, but I see them as separate to myself.

    Yes, I think I’m a voyeur too. Maybe that is something to do with being a writer – we get good at observing others to turn them into characters, and consequently we also observe characters to see what we can learn from them.

  3. I’m definitely a voyeur as a reader. If something awful happens to characters I care about I might weep for them or be glad if it’s something good, but I like that little distance, the safety of being outside the story. I think this is why I’m not generally keen on stories in the first person and especially not keen on 1st person POV present tense. There are exceptions, of course.

    With my own characters it’s a little different. I put a lot of emotion into the writing but they still aren’t me even if I weep buckets while I do horrible things to them and I have to be careful not to slip into 3rd person omniscient when writing emotionally dangerous stuff. Oh the things we do to feel safe!

  4. Yeah, I’m going with voyeur too. Since I’m a writer, I can’t really comment whether this is a hazard of the job or common for most people at large. Elin makes a good point about having a little distance as we put our characters through hell. I’d also add that if I writer is identifying and shaping the hero/heroine, then she’s also doing the same for the villain. What does that say about us if we’re as much a part of the villain as the good guy? The villain has to have believable and relatable emotions and motivations, too. Sometimes the villain is even more likable than the hero or heroine. Personally, I would have chosen the Phantom of the Opera over Raoul, :-).

  5. As a reader I suppose I need to be attracted to the Hero, hence I prefer het romance over m/m romance, because they’re gay – they’ll never fancy me! lol! Doesn’t mean I can’t like them, empathise with them and want things to work out but maybe I can relate better to the heroine, because some of the things she’s feeling I’ve felt in real life too.

    Sometimes, I’m on the outside looking in, (which is obvious when you think about it lol!) and I want happiness or justice for the characters.

    When I’m writing my characters, I suppose I’m hoping I’m creating characters that others will love and empathise with.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s