The Woes of Writing First-Person With a Complicated Narrator Protagonist

Chapter four of my novel Marked for Harm is live on the podcast today, and as we get deeper into violent and sexual themes, I recall many of my early readers saying they couldn’t help but visualize the protagonist as myself. While, I can understand that, I also am not sure I want people thinking this is autobiographical. Both myself and the protagonist have personal issues, but maybe his are a little different than my own.

When I first set out to write a novel that turned pornography on its head and create something truly artistic using the same platform, I was coming from an earnest place of inquiry and self-challenge, but the story took on a life of its own, of course, and became something more profound than I had initially foreseen. Not only was I creating something deep and meaningful, but the protagonist developed a depth of person and went on a journey much more transformative.

My concern is two-fold: On the one hand, the character experiences some really horrible things and participates in some really horrible things. For someone who has been writing his whole life, this is nothing new, but for family and coworkers who may have never seen this side of my creativity, it is, and I know one of my readers simply could not proceed due to the nature of the story and the way tendency of the reader to conflate the confessions of first-person narration with the confessions of the author. Certainly, there are many examples of authors doing just that, but this is not the case with this novel. Regardless, as artists we always want the work to be judged on its own merits and not assumptions being brought to it. Now, on the other hand, I want the reader (in this case, the listener) to get to the end.

The challenge for a writer is always to hook the reader from the beginning and then drawn them in so they cannot wait to find out what happens. With a challenging work like this, I fear losing the audience due to the graphic nature of some of the contents, which is really silly considering the types of things people watch on streaming media and in movies. I’m guilty here too, because I hold the medium of writing sacred and I am writing literature. Will I lose the audience because they cannot wrap their minds around this type of sexual activity and sexual violence within the scope of “high art”? But that was my challenge from the beginning and why this novel exists to begin with! So that is the risk I take, along with the risk that the audience may confuse the character with the author.

I ask the audience always to be patient and allow themselves to go inside the universe of the story, immerse themselves there and go with it, trust me as the writer that something more is coming.

Again, this has been a really great experience so far and I hope that you are enjoying the ride as well!

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