A Writer’s Guilt – Guest Post by A.J. Alexander…

I’m breaking out of the YA Fantasy genre with my new book, stepping into an unfamiliar field. My latest novel has some crime, flawed characters, and a protagonist who doesn’t always make the best choices… and smokes like a chimney.

Now, as compared to the YA’ The Council of Twelve‘ series, I don’t have to limit what my characters say or do. I can add intimacy, attraction, passion, crime, and one or other swear word if I want.

And, I can add cigarettes. But is that a good idea? In a time when the world around us shrinks ‘smoking zones’ to a woeful nothing, where entire cities declare their public places smoke-free environment, and where health warnings are printed on every cigarette pack, should my protagonist smoke?

Theoretically, I know pretty well, my protagonist is doomed to a possible existence with lung cancer. But I also admit, I could also end her life in any other way, accidents, being shot, stabbed, poisoned, hanged… the possibilities are endless.

I know not every reader is going to agree with me on a smoking protagonist. On the other hand, as bad as this habit might be, that character does not hurt anyone else with that addiction.

Why is it that I should feel guilty to mark my protagonist with such a flaw? Is it because of the future readers of that book? Or is it simply because writing about the main character in a book spending time to smoke at least every ten pages is not ‘politically correct?’

Do I, as the writer of this book, have an obligation toward my readers? Do I need to deliver a protagonist with either a less significant flaw, or at least one that doesn’t give the reader the impression that I don’t give a hoot about someone else’s health, even if it’s only the health of a fictional character?

Considering my main character is committing a crime, I still somehow feel that smoking is one of the smaller challenges that a particular character has to overcome.

So, why do I still feel guilty about my protagonist smoking?

Am I not permitted to create my characters the way I want them?
Am I not allowed to write my book the way I want it?
Why do I think so far ahead about what my readers might think about my story?
Why do I think about it at all and feel guilty about the cigarettes?
Is the smoking of my protagonist more my challenge than the main characters’?
Why does Tarzan not have a beard?

All fundamental questions I wish I knew the answer to.

What will you think when you read my new book with a smoking protagonist? Would you find it disturbing? Annoying maybe? Or would you simply not care because thats just what belongs to that particular character?

Let us know in the comments.

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28 thoughts on “A Writer’s Guilt – Guest Post by A.J. Alexander…

  1. I do not think that there is anything wrong with a character who smokes. Nor do I think that wither they drink to excess, shoot heroin or strangle dolphins for fun really matters as long as the character is believable. Nor do I think a character that smokes encourages others in any way to take up the habit. I am a big fan of the “Hannibal Lecter” books and the “Thor” films and have yet to take up cannibalism or become a Norse god. Bummer, huh, always wanted to be a tall blond Norseman (played by an aussie) who ate ribs off the barbie. Ah but whose ribs?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you very much for sharing your opinion, Ray. As so many times, you made me laugh loudly. Just please, let me know when you start strangling dolphins or feeding off people, will you? I might reconsider meeting you in that case. 😏

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s your character, so I suggest that if she/he tells you they smoke, then go with it. I’m a non-smoker, but wouldn’t have a problem with a smoking mc. People smoke. Ok, not as many as in the past, but many still do.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I would guess that you don’t smoke? Write what you feel your character’s strengths and weaknesses are. Some of my characters smoke, especially when we step back in time to WW2 or the 1950’s, 60’s & 70’s when the majority smoked so if your writing is in that time period, or one similar, it would be odd if no one smoked. Write on, my friend.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. We are writers of Fiction and can create our characters any way we want. Flawed characters are always more popular as they are more real! I have had people complain that my character Amanda does things she shouldn´t sometimes. Like, yes she does, she´s a real kid!! And how boring would it be if she was perfect?

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I wouldn’t give it a second thought. I don’t smoke, but many people do. It only puts a habit with a character, and if it helps readers remember him/her, that’s a win.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you so much, Pete. This protagonist is a unique character in many ways… multilayered, difficult at times, complicated, flawed, and many more things… in my head the smoking is just one more part, that’s not perfect.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Since the book is for adult readers, I don’t think you have to worry about a protagonist who smokes. If you want to indicate to readers that you don’t approve, you can have other characters advise the person to quit. Or maybe the protagonist him/herself expresses guilt and wishes they could quit. Or maybe they smoke only in places where no one else will have to be exposed to it.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. Might I suggest you read the Harry Bosch series? Harry, the protagonist smokes. Many characters of fiction do. It’s fiction. We don’t have to worry about all the BS of dos and don’ts. Don’t overthink it. Have fun and let your characters be themselves.
    Let all the politically correct people go read something that will give them that stick up the… feeling.
    JMO.

    Liked by 4 people

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