Thanks so much for the wonderful discussion following my post on Anti-heroines last week. In the course of debating what makes a character an anti-heroine, Sarah commented, “An anti-heroine isn’t, in my eyes, necessarily a good girl gone bad, or even a better person trapped by circumstances, but a character fighting against the hero, for whatever reason – opposing interests, whether personal or political – who inspires the reader to follow their story just as much as that of the protagonist.”
As I replied, “That’s an idea that intrigues me, because I think every reader brings a lot to a book and every reader reads a given book slightly differently.” Gabriele commented, “You’re so right about the reader bringing his/her own to a book. I have a soft spot for mysterious, tortured heros, and for me, Athos is a perfect example of those. And since I had developed a crush on him before I learned about his past with Mylady, I was on his side. ”
While Sarah and I both found ourselves sympathizing with Milady when we read The Three Musketeers, seeing the story from her perspective. As CJM pointed out, “Though Milady is fully wrought, and delightfully so, she’s an antagonist, not a protagonist.” And yet Sarah and I both found ourselves, as Sarah said, wanting to follow Milady’s story as much as the story of the four musketeer protagonists. A great deal of fan fiction is based on retelling television show episodes, books, or movies from the POV of a character who isn’t the protagonist in the original story. Lately in particular there seems to be a trend of re-telling classics from a different POV from that in the original story, which books such as Geraldine Brooks’s March (which I’ve heard wonderful things about but haven’t read yet), Sally Beauman’s Rebecca’s Tale, a number of retellings of Jane Austen. I don’t think anyone’s retold The Three Musketeers from Milady’s viewpoint, but it would definitely make an interesting novel.
I think that to a certain extent every time we read a book we collaborate with the author. We bring our own likes and dislikes to the story, our own preconceptions, our own historical knowledge. We may hear lines inflected differently from the way the author hears them, imagine different expressions of the character’s faces as they speak, even fill in bits of back story differently in our imaginations. Our sympathies may not lie precisely where the author’s do. The words on the page may be the same, but every book is slightly different depending on who is reading it.
As a writer, I find the thought that readers are reading a somewhat different book from the one I wrote totally fascinating. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’ve heard from readers who have sharply differing views of Charles and Mélanie. Perla commented, “I have not had much sympathy for Melanie, I hadn’t forgiven her even if Charles had. And Cate said, “I’ll echo Perla in saying that I didn’t precisely ‘like’ Melanie on my first reading of the books. I found her fascinating and wanted to know more about her.” On the other hand, a good friend of mine said on reading Secrets of a Lady, “Why is Charles being so stubborn, she was only doing her job?” and some have gone so far as to suggest Mélanie should take the children and leave since Charles is being so unforgiving. ” Sharon had yet another perspective when she said, “Twice I’ve tried to answer the question of with whom I sympathize more, and twice I couldn’t come up with an answer. I finally realized that it is because I don’t really sympathize with either one of them. I admire and feel for both of them, but sympathies? No. To me none of their actions asked for sympathies, and it doesn’t seem to me that either one of them would have cared for anyone’s sympathies at all. Does it make sense?”
And then there’s Raoul O’Roarke, who also inspires conflicting feelings in readers. I’ve heard from readers who find him a fascinating character and want me to write a book about him (one of my friends, also a writer, said that while Charles is the most “marriageable” guy in the book, Raoul would be fun to have a fling with :-). On the other hand Perla wrote, “I intensely dislike Raoul. And not because of Melanie, but because of what Raoul did.” You could retell Secrets of a Lady from Raoul’s POV. Or Edgar’s. Or Beneath a Silent Moon from the POV of Evie, Gisèle, Quen, or any number of the characters. One of the things I love about writing the Fraser Correspondence is that it lets me explore the viewpoints of different characters.
One of the things I love and blogging and particularly the follow up discussions is that it gives me the chance to try to see my books and characters through the eyes of different readers. Have you ever read a book and then discussed it with a friend or in a book club and been surprised by how differently others viewed the story and characters (so that it almost felt as if you’d read different books)? Have you ever found yourself more engaged by the story of an antagonist or a secondary character than by the story of the protagonist? Have you found yourself wanting to retell the story from that character’s perspective? If you’ve read Secrets of a Lady/Daughter of the Game, what did you think of Raoul? Does reading my comments on my books and characters ever make you feel you read a different book from the one I’m talking about? :-).
As you’ve probably noticed, the site has a new look (thanks to Greg and jim, my fabulous web designers) for the 29 April trade re-release of Beneath a Silent Moon. Make sure to check out the Gallery. There are two new photo groupings with photos of setting from Beneath a Silent Moon. And take a look at this week’s Fraser Correspondence. Talking of how characters may be viewed differently, Lord Carfax’s take on Charles is not the same as that of many of the other characters (let alone the author :-).