Jack Did That, Not Me
In the course of writing five novels, I've discovered a trend among my readers. Even my proofreaders. Everyone holds me responsible for the actions of my characters. I've created a good number of characters over the course of 575,000 words. My current project, The Next Reader, has 45 named characters. Plus others who pop into the story for short periods of time (like a waitress) and don't even get to talk. And there are some who are dead and only appear in other characters' memory.
Sometimes, a character does bad stuff. Now that's okay with most readers as long as it's the bad guy (the antagonist) who commits the fell deed. Sure, we don't want a good character to be the one killed or harmed, but let's face it, in a novel that's C'est la vie. But we expect the antagonist to be a cheating, lying, evil, son of a so-and-so. Secretly I think we're all sort of glad they are so bad. Where would Luke Skywalker be without Darth Vader stirring the pot?
Sometimes, a good character, even the main character (the protagonist), will misbehave. They lie. They cheat. They cheat on their spouse or significant other. Or they have offensive beliefs. They get drunk. They kill someone. That's just storytelling. In the current polarized society we live in, a writer has to walk a fine line with even what a character believes. I could decide my main character was loyal to a particular political party or religion and instantly lose half my potential readers.
Now, let me explain something. I am not my characters. Mary Shelley was not Frankenstein's monster. I'm sure she was a nice lady. She didn't steal through morgues and cemeteries at night searching for good organs to steal. (Unless for researching her story.) Stephen King is really a cool, generous man, unlike some of his characters.
Likewise, I'm not Jack Winston, the main character of The Next Reader. Jack's a basically good guy, and yes, he happens to be a writer, but he does some things I would never dream of doing. (Well, obviously I thought about doing them or they wouldn't be in the book, but you know what I mean.) One of things he does get's him a good solid slap in the face, delivered by the other main character, Lainey Kerr. I, on the other hand, have never been slapped in the face.
Not yet, anyway.