Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Brooklyn and Ethical Characters

 I have to admit that I am not as discerning as many of my friends. Part of that is because, when I can, I choose friends who are smarter than I. When they’re smarter, I’m much less likely to get bored with the company or the friendship.

I carry that over to my writing critique groups as well. I want to work with better writers than I am so they can carry me along to the finish line of publication. So far so good! These people are also pretty amazing in book groups and as movie partners, as well.

I suppose it is not a surprise to those who know me that I went to see Brooklyn, a period movie, about an Irish immigrant. I am a real sucker for those kinds of tearjerkers. Even when I know I am being manipulated, the tears stream unfettered. Love it!

Now the fact that this movie was set in the 1950s, in my life time and yet is considered a period movie was enough of a shock. That brought on tears on its own!

Still, I settled in for a lovely transport to another’s life while in the company of a treasured writing crit partner. We both enjoyed the actors, the scenery, and the authenticity to the period (though we thought the heroine had too many clothes for her station in life).

The next morning, after our workout at Curves, we went for a pastry and coffee at the Basha’s grocery in the same strip mall. (I didn’t say I was without flaws.)

While licking my fingers of the cinnamon twist sugar, C.V. said something like, “I’ve been thinking about the movie, and the more I think of it the less I like the character Eilis. She was reared to have integrity, and she showed integrity early on, but her actions with both men were not ethical or moral.”

Wow! Deep. I was just enjoying the romance plot line, and dissing her for choices she made, but I never went that deep. I am far too forgiving of writers’ choices, I’ve decided. One can critique without necessarily being critical. Maybe that is a flaw of mine, too.
C.V. was right, of course. I, too, was uneasy with her actions and choices from mid-movie on, but I assumed it was an authorial decision to create a flawed character who finally did the right thing, even if for the wrong reasons.

But are we to that point where we expect our characters to have less integrity and we accept that as long as it turns out right, it doesn’t matter how she got there?

I attended a panel on anti-heroes at the Left Coast Crime conference recently. Authors on the panel posited that our definition of heroes has been influenced greatly by the more interesting anti-heroes in film. Think Tony Soprano, Dexter, Walter White. The lines for morality and ethics seems to have shifted.

Is that why I didn’t notice, or at least didn’t wholly disapprove, of Eilis’ actions as much as my friend? Has my sense of right and wrong been gradually eroding? How can I still like a character who doesn’t live up to the standards I set for myself?

Please respond below. I will be coming back to this topic to explore how authors are writing characters and what that means for readers.