Reader Perceptions

One of the dangers of being a writer is that there’s a tendency for some people, thankfully usually a minority, to make all sorts of assumptions about you, based not even on what you write, but on what those readers thought you wrote or how they believe a given character reflects your personal beliefs.

Over the years, I’ve been accused of being everything from a right-wing ultra-conservative to a far leftist. Part of that is because I engage in thought experiments in my writing, raising questions based on what would happen if a government or an individual had a particular political slant, and more than a few times, in different books, the protagonist and those around him take very different philosophical positions. In Adiamante, Ecktor deJanes and the demis believe that they should NEVER take an offensive action first, no matter what the cost, and they act in accord with that belief, even when the cost is horrendous. I addressed another side of that issue with The Parafaith War and The Ethos Effect, where Trystin Desoll initially implements a compromise of sorts… and then comes to the decision that preemptive action, rather than reaction, is the only solution that makes sense. Over the years, in both F&SF, I’ve presented multiple workable and very different governing systems, including matriarchal societies. [I will admit that there is one consistent theme/belief in my work – that political extremism of any sort is a disaster.]

I’ve also had readers accuse me of repeating, verbatim, episodes that, first, I never wrote before and then accuse me of “cutting and pasting.” I don’t mind owning up to the mistakes I made, but it’s a bit difficult to deal with readers who insist on something that simply isn’t so, because they firmly believe that what they remember is what I wrote – even when I didn’t.

Then, there’s also the problem of people making assumptions about your family members, based on what you write. The Soprano Sorceress tells the story of an opera singer and junior professor who finds herself in a medieval-level world where magic is controlled by music. I obviously drew on the expertise of my wife, who is an opera singer and voice and opera professor, but neither of us ever expected what happened to her one day several years ago, when a new voice student introduced herself to my wife and immediately announced, “I’ve read The Soprano Sorceress, and I know all about you.”

Yes, there is some of me in everything I write, as there is with every writer, but when you’re as old as I am and you’ve been with as many people in as many settings, it’s better for everyone that readers not to make too many assumptions.

5 thoughts on “Reader Perceptions”

  1. Sam says:

    I would propose a caveat to what you are saying. That being that as the author you get to decide the outcomes of your characters actions.

    Whether or not a character succeeds in their aims with the methodology they select is up to you.

    As the author you have to decide how a situation will play out and this must in some way be informed by your worldview.

    1. I don’t dispute what you’re saying, but while what I set up is informed by my worldview, I have written characters from a sympathetic viewpoint whose views are not mine.

  2. JakeB says:

    One thing I particularly like about the Recluce series is the _Magic Engineer_ vs. _White Order_/_Colors of Chaos_, where you see two fundamentally decent (and even heroic) men, who nevertheless find themselves to be mortal foes, and both of whom commit a number of terrible actions. And both of whom, of course, support strongly opposed political systems.

  3. Wine Guy says:

    This essay reminds me of one of my non-Modesitt favorite books: The Phantom Tollbooth.

    When Milo visits the Island of Conclusions that is on the Sea of Knowledge, he finds that the only way to get there is to jump.

    1. Tim says:

      That book by Norman Juster was probably the only mandatory reading at school I enjoyed. Thanks for the memory.

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