Authors Must Write About What They Believe?

Under one of my other pen names, I received an email from a reader who had found a post I wrote years ago, debunking the myths about crop circles.

His email was a single line, which I will paraphrase: You write about magic, but you don’t think crop circles are supernatural?

I admit my jaw dropped a little.

It seems that this particular reader feels that authors who write about magic must, by default, believe in magic. And crop circles.

Perhaps I’ve been writing professionally for too long, and I have lost sight of the pure reader’s perspective. I have never assumed that what a writer writes about represents what they believe, or how they think the world is or should be. I certainly don’t think Joanna Rowling keeps a wand under her pillow, bought from Diagon Alley. I don’t think that Stephen King believes that monsters are real, or that people who can start fires with their mind really exist.

And I could be dead wrong about both authors.

How about you? Do you believe that what a writer writes about represents what they truly believe?

Or do you assume that they’re writing to entertain and don’t care what they really believe?

Would you feel that an author is diminished in your eyes if you learned they’re writing about subjects that they don’t believe in? Even if you do…or don’t?

Or would you rather not know what the author truly thinks?

We’re dealing with magic for right now, but what about authors who write horror? Or about serial killers? Or the end of the world? What about writers who write noir, with characters who are unpleasant, failures, and losers?

What about the Wachowski sisters who wrote the Matrix movies? Do they really believe we’re all living in a virtual reality?

Should writers not write about what they don’t believe in? Would you prefer to read stories written only by those who truly believe in magic, time travel, firestarters, or that life is not real?

It’s a bit of a twister, isn’t it?

Tell me what you think in comments.


12 thoughts on “Authors Must Write About What They Believe?”

  1. I think whatever author your reading shares some small part of there own belief system (mostly in regards character relationships), but it doesn’t necessarily mean they believe everything they’ve written.

    There are definitely authors that absolutely do believe the things they write, sometimes to the point of preaching. Sometimes this can be off putting, but the reader doesn’t need to align themselves with those beliefs.

    Do I care if an author believes every word they put into a story? No, the key word being ‘story’; it is not dependent on reality. That is why it is called fiction; a fictional story.

    Unless the story is historical, biographical, practical information etc., then it important to believe in, or have understanding of said topic.

    Authors of fiction have no responsibility to believe in everything they’ve represented, or to fit into someone else’s idea of what the author should believe. You can put someone else’s imagination in a box you prefer.

  2. Write whatever you want. You don’t have to believe it, though sometimes it obvious what an author believes.

  3. If authors only wrote about what they believed, there would be far fewer books sold as fiction for entertainment. The authors would publish as non-fiction, because they would believe what they wrote was the truth. The world would be a much more boring place.

    Let’s take fantasy, for example. Authors like Piers Anthony would have to believe all the things from the Xanth series? The gap monster, etc.? He wouldn’t be writing, he’d be in a padded cell some place. And for more purely Science Fiction, how about the Terran Times series from Viola Grace – 99% of which supposedly occurred off the earth?

    No, I think authors shouldn’t concern themselves with whether their novels have a basis in reality; nor whether their future readers believe the events to be true (regardless of whether the book is sold as fiction). Instead, they should write purely to entertain … because, after all, that’s why people buy fiction books to begin with. They seek entertainment and escape from the mundane.

  4. I have to agree with all that’s already been said. We are talking about fiction. By definition, that means not everything in that book will be a fact. That seems so obvious it’s hard to imagine that anyone would even suggest otherwise. Characters are fictional, their clothing, which one hopes is time-period appropriate and, of course, the plot is fictional. All of it is the product of the author’s imagination and (which should go without saying) the characters do what the author’s imagination has them do. (Or, as many authors have said, the characters, once fully realized, do whatever they want to do, often surprising the authors!) So, it’s a specious argument that authors must “believe” everything they write.

    What’s important to me? If the authors believe in their characters, and if the characters are true to themselves. If that is the case, and the story is a good one, then I think most readers will happily enjoy their reading experience. After all, there is a description for every book, and often an opportunity to preview the book to see if you like the author’s writing style. Authors should write what they please, readers should choose the books that please them.

  5. Some of an author’s political or religious beliefs may find a way into their writing. Depending on the storyline, that can help make the story more authentic. However, it’s clear that spaceships from Earth are not travelling the stars, nor are children waving wands to cast spells. At least not successfully.

    Authors should write what they choose. It is part of what makes them an author. I think most people know that readers then interpret them as they choose. I remember a Mel Brooks scene in a film where the audience are talking about the play they have just seen, and Brooks as the playwright says that’s not what I meant at all. There’s an American author I like, who has audio versions of her books. She says the narrator is perfect and sounds just as she imagines her character does. They don’t sound right to me. So we differ. I still love the books.

    I’m sure I remember reading that books only take on life when circulated and read by people other than the author. Our interpretations may differ, but so what? Why do people enjoy talking about the books they like if everyone just feels the same about them. Authors have to let readers feel whatever they do about the books, and readers should let authors feel however they do. If the books work for you, read them. If not, don’t read them. Leave us not forget that authors are also readers, and have to decide what they think about the books they are reading.

    Hopefully with action books the readers don’t think the author is advocating general violence and destruction.

    Personally I need books that I like to feed my reading addiction. It’s as simple as that to me.

    1. Thanks, Keith! Some thoughtful comments, there.

      It’s an aphorism among authors that before the book is published, it is the author’s. After it is published, it belongs to the readers.

      I’ve had authors tell me about visiting schools and colleges and being dumbfounded by the thematic and character deconstruction students have made of their work…none of which they deliberately added, or even thought about until that moment. 🙂


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