The Attic Tragedy – Blog Tour
I once read an interview with crime writer James Ellroy, who spoke bluntly when asked if his characters were flesh and blood. He said it was disingenuous for writers to say they had no control over their creations. The choices about their behaviour, their actions and reactions, did not arise independently – each was an artistic decision, made by him.
The Oscar-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin holds a similar, albeit more extreme position, describing the tendency of some authors to impute independent agency to their characters as ‘magical thinking’ – a politely belittling alternative to calling it ‘bullshit’. To Sorkin, there is no character beyond the words on the page. Characters do not ‘live’ beyond the individual choices that he, as author, makes for them; the specific traits or behaviours or actions that he chooses to show. If a character likes to drink warm lemonade, or is a hoarder with an obsession for dog-eared National Geographics, it is because room temperature soda and thrift store magazine collections are intrinsic to some dramatic purpose of Sorkin’s design. They exist on the page, in service to the story.
In this model of the author–character relationship, the author is a god, the character a figure made of clay into which the illusion of life is breathed.
Some part of me (the part that doesn’t balk at hard-boiled materialism) knows they are right. I know it. And yet—