When I first began writing I was really concerned about what my characters said, in the sense that I didn’t want one of them to say something that might offend the reader, or something the reader might find controversial. Now, of course I’m not writing anything political or that sort of thing where I’ll be sent death threats. However, if one of my characters made a racial stereotype, (be it an actual race or a fey race), I didn’t want to upset my readers. I didn’t want to get blamed for what my characters were saying.
But, not until fairly recently–about a year ago, roughly–did I realize that, in a way, I don’t have a lot of control over what my characters say. I learned through writing their developments, and through letting them make the story happen, that their personalities will show up and make them say the things they do. Whether they hate women, men, gnomes, birds, cars, trees, anything; eventually it will surface, and we, as writers, need to make them say those things that can potentially offend. Because if we don’t, then these characters won’t be real. No one says appropriate things all the time. People’s personalities shape who they are, and what they say. Characters in our stories are no different.
I mean, in the end it seems as if, more often than not, when a character says something inappropriate or offensive, another character is there to counter it, whether it be by another piece of dialogue, or an action. So, there is always someone in the story that will appeal to the reader. Whether the reader agrees with the inappropriate statement, or the counter-statement/action, they can relate to either of the characters, and that can make them relate to the story better.
Also, a character’s back story can do a lot to shape their dialogue. One particular event I tend to turn to–more often than I like–is that a character’s family was murdered by a particular people. Be it bandits, pirates, a rival tribe, an invading country, whatever. That event can shape how the character feels and acts. It will develop a hatred for that specific group or people, and therefore they are much more likely to say negative things about them. Now, of course, to turn that into an interesting story, a writer may end up having that person team up with a person from the invading force, or a person related to them, but not part of actual force. This will force them to overcome their hatred in the end. But, the writer cannot be held responsible for what the hate-feeling character says.
Have you ever been blamed for what your characters say? Do you ever feel like you can’t let a character say something because you think it will offend someone?