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So I wrote a short text recently in which the character has a very strong political opinion (anti-LGBTQ), which in addition is totally different to my own opinion. Now, I wanted to make the character as realistic as possible and used real arguments that people with this opinion use. Other participants said that they were not sure if I myself as the author share the same opinion and yeah, that would be a problem if someone thinks I'm some anti-LGBTQ after reading that text.

So how can I write a character whose opinions differ from mine but without making the character unrealistic? The stories are from 1st person view so that makes it a little bit more difficult as:

  • I just can't make the person change their mind
  • I can't change the point of view either
  • Making a statement at the end would somehow ruin the whole feeling
  • Making unrealistic arguments would be unrealistic

EDIT: I'm asking especially for short texts. In my case my test was for a Poetry Slam and I am completely new. In short texts I don't have the time to introduce a character and often just have to make him do his wrong things without being able to tell the audience more about him/her

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    If the other participants were not sure if you held those opinions, it sounds like you successfully wrote a character with an opinion other than your own. Are you asking how to write the character so that it is believable but still make it clear you as the author don't agree? – Mr.Mindor Sep 17 '18 at 16:24
  • @Mr.Mindor Yeah, exactly. The critisized that they were not sure if that's my opinion or my character's. It's even more difficult when you always say "I hate those". Is that right? – Féileacán Sep 17 '18 at 16:32
  • It's one thing for your character to have opinions. It's another thing for them to be presenting their arguments. Once your characters start presenting realistic arguments, the story then forms a theme on the subject. The resolution to the theme is what your audience is going to assume you believe (and also the message you want to send). Is this your intent, or would you rather your story stay out of LGBTQ issues while still upholding your character's persona? – Clay07g Sep 17 '18 at 20:16
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    I'm not understanding what your problem really is. Is it that your hard-line bigot is unrealistic and that this detracts from the story, or that people think you may share attitudes with your character? – David Thornley Sep 17 '18 at 20:31
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    Your concern about people confusing your character's beliefs for your own reminds me of a quote by long time author S. M. Stirling, "There is a technical term for someone who confuses the opinions of a character in a book with those of the author. That term is idiot.". And no matter what you try to do to prevent it, my money is on the universe winning by producing a worse idiot. – Dan Neely Sep 17 '18 at 20:44
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If the readers think the opinion of your protagonist is your own opinion, then I'd guess the problem is not that the protagonist has that opinion, but that the protagonist's opinion is not or not sufficiently challenged in the story. That is, the book actually seems to promote that protagonist's position, which an author of different opinion usually won't want to do.

Now it might be that the other participants only read a small excerpt of your story, then it probably doesn't matter much; anyone reading the full story will hopefully see that this is not your real opinion. But if after reading the whole story the impression prevails, you probably want to do something about it. Not by changing the protagonist, but by challenging the protagonist.

For example, you might explicitly show a case where the protagonist's prejudices turn out to be false, but the protagonist brushes it off as exception to the rule. If that happens a few times, then the reader will see a pattern of denial here, and thus recognize that you don't share those prejudices (or you would not have explicitly written those cases).

Or maybe someone else makes a good argument against the position, and the protagonist does not see how to refute it, but simply dismisses it as stupid argument because it doesn't fit into the protagonist's world view. This will again be a hint that you don't support the protagonist's position (or else, why would you put an argument against it without refuting it?)

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    While I think this is a good answer generally, with the edit to the question, it sounds like the author is using a format where most of this advice might not apply well. – Obie 2.0 Sep 17 '18 at 18:12
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    I concur with this answer. Some of the best stories I've read are ones where characters' viewpoints collide - e.g. "My religion says we should do X", "Wait, X is an oppressive practice of the past, the Modern Justice and Reform Party is campaigning on a platform to do Y instead", "But Z is clearly the answer, this scientific article from Smith, Smythe, Jones, and McFarkeloy (2015) establish a case for a comprehensive anti-X and anti-Y model and show a 95% confidence in Z", "Oops, are those zombies coming out of the sewer? Maybe we should stop arguing and start shooting" – Robert Columbia Sep 18 '18 at 2:26
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Dig until you discover what fundamental "truth" the bigot rejects. That will usually be the opposite of some fundamental "truth" you fully accept.

Accept that people are rational. Reason proceeds from axioms, these are the "givens", statements of fact we find self-evidently true, meaning we do not think they require any proof, they are just true! We refuse to argue in circles about why they are true, we just cannot believe they aren't true.

Unfortunately, we don't all believe in the same set of axioms! Sure, we can all accept 1+1=2, but how about the statement that "God exists", or "An eternal soul exists and there is a life after death"?

I can get into arguments with my own family about those; and they usually end in "I just cannot believe that," by one side or another. I take those arguments literally, to mean the person I am arguing with has so much invested in believing their axiom, that it would be emotionally devastating and life-changing to reject it. e.g. My sister believes in the Christian God and her life is organized around that and she will die believing that, no amount of reason can change that, because for her the fact that God exists means all arguments to the contrary are flawed, and must be wrong because they violate a given.

Something similar will be for your anti-gay character. I personally am liberal, any kind of sex between consenting adults doesn't bother me; as long as nobody is manipulated, deceived or feels coerced. But in the end I am a "bigot" too, that opinion of mine is based on my own fundamental belief system, things I think are absolutely true. My opinion on this cannot be changed: I just cannot believe the fundamental changes that it would take to make me oppose homosexual sex, or displays of affection, or marriage or raising children or anything else related to it.

That is what you need to find for your character, and often it will just be the opposite of one of your own fundamental beliefs. You need to find what they cannot let go of, for whatever reason, that leads them to reason that homosexuality is wrong and must be prevented and is damaging society in some way.

That may be something personal to them: They can't stand the idea that their offspring will not reproduce and give them grand-children.

Or it may be a different kind of personal thing: God said so, and they can't stand the idea of the slippery slope that results if they start to believe the Bible can be wrong. It would make them question their faith, and their faith is a major component in their emotional stability, they've invested thousands of hours of emotional engagement with it. They cannot give that up, so without any good reason in your eyes, they reject your argument.

Just like you refuse to accept their arguments, because their arguments are based on fundamentals you cannot believe in.

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    I don't think this is necessarily a good approach. While some anti-gay opinions are caused by such beliefs, my personal experience has been that a lot more often they're caused by the much more down-to-earth fear of other people who are different. No actual, deeply held belief that they can justify -- the topic just makes them uncomfortable, and honestly they can't really explain why. And if other people are making them uncomfortable, it must be the other people who are at fault, and therefore need to stop it. – Jules Sep 17 '18 at 20:08
  • @Jules Fearing people who are "different" implies a belief that because they are different, they will in some way harm you, harm people you love, or harm society. This doesn't have to be a belief they can articulate: they think, because the gays do something they personally would find disgusting, no telling what else they would do that the hater would be repelled by. Or something similar for blacks, or Muslims, etc. Alienation from another group comes down to a belief that what is different about them will result in some form of real harm, thus must be controlled or prohibited by law. – Amadeus Sep 18 '18 at 11:14
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Audiences always confuse the author with the narrator, and your chosen format makes this particularly difficult. Slam poetry is typically confessional in nature, which means that your audience is even more predisposed to view you as speaking for yourself.

Being completely honest, I wouldn't even try this in this format, personally. But the larger question is a good one. I'm facing a similar issue myself, since the first-person narrator of my new book is racist --unintentionally, and without malice, but clearly racist. Here are my suggestions:

  • Add another voice to interrogate your character's positions. In your format, you could make this poem a dialogue between two different voices. In my book, I've made sure that there are other characters who identify and call out my MC's prejudices.

  • Allow your character to evolve. Maybe your character's perspective changes over the course of the text. This is tricky to pull off without it seeming forced, but it can be extremely effective if done well.

  • Tone it down a little. This might seem like betraying your character, or being unrealistic, but you have to remember that realism is just a technique. It doesn't take that much to clearly imply noxious views for a character, and a more full rendering can be unpleasant or distressing to the audience, which is probably not what you want. For my book, I had to ask myself if I would feel comfortable reading my own book to my children. I ended up cutting a couple of particularly egregious passages.

  • Allow yourself a little distance from the character. Again, this may seem like a betrayal of your artistic commitments, but look at it from the viewpoint of connecting with the audience. What they currently think they are experiencing is a bigot spewing bile at them. They can't enjoy that as art. They'll be able to appreciate this character more as a character. This might be something as simple as a one line intro: "So I was talking to my neighbor, old lady Henderson, and she says:" and then you launch into your poem. You can still do your best to depict her from her point of view, but now the audience knows it isn't you.
  • Interrogate your own choice to present this work in this fashion. You may not have any conscious agreement with these views. But have you really put yourself in the place of someone in the audience who might feel targeted by them? To quote transgressive comedian Sarah Silverman, talking about her own early work:

Just cos I am liberal and I say I’m making a character study of an ignorant person – the intention was good, but whatever. Now I know more about this phrase ‘the liberal bubble’, I know that saying ‘I’m not racist, so I can be racist to show racism’… well social media taught me that racism doesn’t need me to help people understand racism, because it’s everywhere.

https://www.theguardian.com/global/2017/nov/19/sarah-silverman-interview-jokes-i-made-15-years-ago-i-wouldnt-make-today

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    I agree with your particular concern about the format. It's also so short that it can't incorporate a reasonable slice of reality, so if it's presenting someone's views that's all there is. With a single voice in a short format, parody often works well (making their views so exaggerated that it's clear that they're being mocked; consider some of Al Yankovic's songs for instance), but clearly this isn't realistic, and the poster seemingly wants to present a believable portrayal of the views of a bigot. – Obie 2.0 Sep 17 '18 at 18:15
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I personally don't think Digital Dracula's answer is useful. You want to write a convincing bigot, which is fair. Think about why bigots are the way they are, their motives.

Sometimes, they have a strongly held religious beliefs that prevent them from being tolerant. They may have no problem with individual gay people but instead 'hate the sin'.

Others are bigoted towards people/groups associated with 'change'. Racism in Harlem spiked when the neighbourhood started transitioning from largely white to largely black, and people were afraid of this change. 'Nothing's like how it used to be', 'what was wrong with things as they were', and other sentiments along those lines were likely the thought patterns, until eventually it translated to 'blacks are destroying our way of life'.

We can all relate to having a set of principles we refuse to stray from even in the face of logic, or longing for a simpler time when you felt safe. Draw from the innate humanity of these otherwise inhumane views, and there you'll find your answer.

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Hi and welcome to Writing Stack.

Short reply:
Don't bother adapting your writing based on other people's stupidity.

Longer reply:
Basically, don't bother adapting your writing, period. I don't believe in trying to please audiences, for whatever reason, but this is especially the case if someone is that stupid to be unable to tell apart a fictional character from the author. I might sound harsh, but I've seen this so many times that I no longer see the absurd side of it, only the frustrating one.

The fact that we live in a world plagued by homophobes, neonazis, and fanatics of all sorts is precisely the reason we need stories like the one you're writing. So, kudos to you for taking on the topic, and kudos for trying to be accurate on your portrayal. The rest is no problem of yours.

Two further points, related to the issue:

  • Trying to please everyone and you're guaranteed to please no one.
  • The lady doth protest too much, methinks. Audiences who read too much into something are usually projecting their own thoughts, fears, or latent tendencies on something. More details.

EDIT:
Inspired by Matthew's reply (which commented on mine), I want to make a clarification:
My answer is 100% focused on writing advice. Any side comments I made regarding stupidity and inane readers are, indeed, parenthetical, but my main argument (which I am now emphasizing) is this:
There is inherent danger in trying to adapt your writing to an audience, and this is especially the case when you're trying to please a part of your audience.
Deep down Seraphina didn't indicate she is unhappy with her text, only with the reaction of some people. Any attempt to rectify a text that the author is (at least I assumed) satisfied with, is doomed to fail. It is one thing to reconsider a text based on textual recommendations (and preferably by a professional editor or at least an experienced reader), and entirely an other to reconsider changing a text the author is happy with, based merely on someone's non-text-based opinion.

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    I get what you're saying, you should never aim to people-please, but whenever you can, you should strive to avoid writing strawmen. What's more compelling; a villain who twirls his moustache and says 'I just love being evil!' or the one who has a plausible reason/motive for their actions? – Matthew Dave Sep 17 '18 at 9:18
  • @MatthewDave, it's a bit ironic (I mention it as a well-meaning comment, I don't claim you did it on purpose, nor to undermine your argument) that you said an author should avoid writing strawmen, while, in my opinion, you're committing a strawman fallacy! The OP never mentioned that she got feedback that her characters were unrealistic, and neither did I suggest she wrote unrealistic characters. The OP's words were: "I wanted to make the character as realistic as possible and used real arguments, people with this opinion use," which made readers think she held the same opinions. – Digital Dracula Sep 17 '18 at 9:26
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    'Now, I wanted to make the character as realistic as possible and used real arguments, people with this opinion use', 'So how can I write a character whose opinions differ from mine but without making the character unrealistic.', 'Making unrealistic arguments would be unrealistic'. These three things alone suggested that yes, OP was concerned about realism, regardless of what 'feedback' she received. – Matthew Dave Sep 17 '18 at 11:15
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    That's not at all how I'm interpreting it. The way the question is currently phrased, the focus is on changing a currently realistic character to one that is equally realistic with the added attribute of conveying the notion that the author does not share the character's views. In any case, I don't think our disagreement offers anything further to the discussion, so perhaps we can simply agree to disagree. Cheers! – Digital Dracula Sep 17 '18 at 11:43
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    I think it is ridiculous advice to tell a writer "don't try to please audiences", that doesn't even apply to scientific writing. In fiction, particularly, the whole point is to entertain an audience and please them. We want them to buy our books and read our stories. The whole point of this question is to be realistic in order to be more entertaining. – Amadeus Sep 18 '18 at 19:38
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This is why I say the worst piece of writing advise is "Write what you know". It discourages you from actually writing about topics you do not know all that well... I.E. Research. I tend to say it's better to "Write what you don't know, but make absolutely sure people don't know that you don't know."

In essence, you want to play the Devil's Advocate. Defend Satan against a crime as competently as you would defend an innocent man (the term derives from the Catholic Church's tradition of naming a Devil's Advocate when determining the sainthood of a candidate... they were the person charged with defending the position the guy was not a saint... which would be something the devil would do... in effect, it's prosecutorial... but meh...).

I would also make a distinction between bigoted against LGBT people on principle, between people who may take seemingly anti-LGBT positions but have no problem with interacting with LGBT people (i.e. People can and do oppose gay marriage, without having issues with gay people... there are some subsets of this who oppose legalization of gay marriage because they would prefer the government is removed from marriage issues as a whole.). You have some people who are opposed to laws requiring you to address someone by preferred pronouns because they believe the government should not force anyone to say anything or punish them for doing such... but they will call a trans person by correct personal pronouns when asked by an individual.

None of those are wholly due to the "Sacred Texts say it's a sin" and even in religious circles, the opinions on the matter run a gamut. This character could even be an Archy Bunker... who has preconceived notions from a different era... but never let those get in the way of him being a decent person when it was important... a much more closer approximation would be Clint Eastwood's character from Gran Torinio, who's dislike of his Hmong neighbors was motivated by his experiences in the Korean War and what they did to him as well as being uncomfortable with changes his community was going through. There's also an element of the fact that Eastwood's character had a sense of humor to him that was mostly irrelevant to all races, his own included, as he tells a joke that is demeanining to Irish, African-Americans, and Polish people. The joke was rather surprising to the audiences which were too busy reacting to the text to read the subtext: Eastwood is playing a man with the last name Kowelski... a polish last name. In another scene one of his teenage neighbors endears herself to him when, at the party the family have invited Walt to, she introduces Eastwood's character to her Grandmother, who despite not speaking English, is clearly not happy about sitting by a white man... Eastwood appreciates that he has found a kindred spirit. Later, when the teenage girl hears him using a racial slur for Asians and explains that, it's an inappropriate slur for the Hmong because it was used to denote Koreans specifically, not the Vietnamese Hmong, to which she points to a more correct slur for her people. She and Eastwood have some amusing conversations where it was clear that racially-offensive responses were fair use... but neither disrespected each other. In fact, her rape by the local gang leaders resolves Eastwood's to the course of actions he takes in the finale.

There could be a character like this, who's only knowledge of LGBT people are the Pride Parade crowds, but could find a person who was less of a political gay activist who had a similar opinion of the Pride elements that they gave LGBT people a bad name. This isn't an unheard of thought in the LGBT community either.

  • Most of this doesn't answer the question? – Obie 2.0 Sep 17 '18 at 18:19
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Are you writing political propaganda or literary work ?

Propaganda often has uses of stereotypical, one-dimensional, simplified characters. Literature seldom does except in satire. Your character has his own motives for not supporting homosexual agenda. These motives could be rational, irrational, based on emotions, based on knowledge or lack thereof, consequence of his personal experiences, product of upbringing, product of religious beliefs etc ... If your character resembles actual real people, with their own flaws and virtues, that is a good thing.

The fact that you cannot easily change his opinion is also a good thing, because in real life people do not shift their opinions easily. In fact, to be against homosexual agenda in modern times is a narrow path against mainstream, and such people do not sway in the wind. It would be good if you could create another realistic character, resembling real people, that does support homosexual agenda. Then try to situate both of them in an interaction (lovers, foes, colleagues, even accidental encounter ...) . From that interaction you could form narrative for your story, and let it find its own conclusion.

This technique has been quite successful in literature. For example, Sholokhov (himself a Communist) used it in his masterpiece And Quiet Flows the Don to portray his characters, both Red and White (and those switching sides) in a Russian Revolution and civil war. Key to success in his novel was that he did not try to vulgarly push his ideas or create stereotypical good and bad characters . Instead he let ostensibly realistic people to develop themselves according to their nature and situation.

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