Quotes from books (character vs. author)

First, if you’re reading this and it’s a weekend where you are (which is the case right now for I think everyone in the world) and you haven’t gotten outside today, do so.  A little sunshine and (theoretically) fresh air is going to do far more good for you than reading my inane ramblings.  And, just to motivate you, here’s a photo I took today when I was out and about.




I’m sure others do this as well, but I have a tendency to stop and underline quotes from books as I’m reading.  (You should see my copy of War and Peace…)  I’ve already shared on here a few quotes from Of Human Bondage and Misery that I really liked.  Here are a few more from Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin:

“The only thing that makes life possible is permanent intolerable uncertainty; not knowing what comes next.” (p. 75)

“I certainly wasn’t happy.  Happiness has to do with reason, and only reason earns it.  What I was given was the thing you can’t earn, and can’t keep, and often don’t recognize at the time; I mean joy.” (p. 259)

“A profound love between two people involves, after all, the power and chance of doing profound hurt.” (p. 268)

And here’s one more from Misery by Stephen King:

“Because writers remember everything….Especially the hurts. Strip a writer to the buff, point to the scars, and he’ll tell you the story of each small one. From the big ones you get novels, not amnesia. A little talent is a nice thing to have if you want to be a writer, but the only real requirement is that ability to remember the story of every scar.” (p. 237)

I’d never really thought about it before I started writing, but a lot of the quotes I’ve captured over the years, that I attribute to the author, are actually comments or observations made by a character in a book.

In terms of the quotes above, I don’t think the authors would ever object to having someone attribute those thoughts or comments to them as individuals.  But I wonder what it would be like to be quoted and have it be something a villain in your book said?  Something that you fundamentally disagree with, but that the villain had to say because, well, they’re the villain.

Or, who knows, there could be quotes I’ve written down that are by the “good” characters that an author completely disagrees with and here I am thinking the author is one type of person because one of their characters said something, when in fact the author is the complete opposite.

When a fiction author writes something that is interesting enough or moving enough for someone to actually stop and note it down, I guess they always run the risk that they as a person will be conflated with their character or story.

(More so than any author is already conflated with what they choose to write about.  “Oh, you write steamy romance novels, huh?  I didn’t realize you were like that.” (Reminds me of a look I got from someone who saw that I was reading a Jacqueline Carey book.  He didn’t say it, but it was clear he was thinking I was into that type of thing if I was reading the book.))

It’s amazing how much authors reveal about themselves through their writing.  In the same way that people reveal a lot about themselves through what they choose to say (or not say) and how they do so.  But at the same time, what we choose to write isn’t who we are.  And what our characters say isn’t necessarily what we believe.  For SFF authors, the worlds we create are not our ideal.  Sometimes they’re the exact opposite.

I think it’s really hard to know where that line is, though, between author, character, and story.  If nothing else, we may, as authors reveal our focus and values with every word we write.  It may not be obvious which side of the argument we’re on, but the fact that the issue is part of our novel shows that we’re engaged with it.

It’s interesting to think about.  What I do know, is that from now on, when I find a quote in a book, I’ll be sure to note that it came from a book and not a blog or article or interview by that person.

(And on a completely unrelated point – why can’t I ever find the books I want at bookstores?  I went to my local independent and the three books I wanted weren’t there.  They had book 2 in a series I was going to read but not book 1 and none of the books by another author.

When I worked at a bookstore and I was responsible for the SFF section, I always made sure we had at least one of each book in a series, so that if someone found book four and thought it looked interesting they could go back to book 1 and read the whole series start to finish.  Oh well.  Cost that bookstore some sales.  I still have MORE than enough to read.  And it turns out my local library has bookshelves worth of books for sale starting at ten cents.  So, I may see if they have any of the out of print or old ones that are on my list.)

About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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