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Author Topic: Can I get in trouble for my characters' disparaging of Joyce Carol Oates?  (Read 1342 times)  

Offline Paranormal Kitty

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Two of my characters discuss her book "Bellefleur" and how they think it's boring and insufferable. This discussion does have a purpose within the narrative. The MC reveals that she picked up the book because her father's nickname for her was "Belle Fleur." The reader needs to be in on this because the nickname shows up later as a piece of the puzzle she needs to solve in order to cure a disease (that her father was forced to develop as a biological weapon). I know this book was only written in 1980. Is it likely I'd get sued for my characters hating on it? I could change it to where they both love the book, but the conversation is much less interesting that way.

Offline ParkerAvrile

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She's on twitter and you can ask her yourself, but she's very liberal & tolerant  & I'd surprised if she reacted with anything other than a smile.  There's a famous quote about her by Gore Vidal, and I really don't think it slowed her down any. She seems to have a great sense of humor.  She's a friend of Stephen King ( who is an advocate of freedom of expression) and regularly retweets him.
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Offline Paranormal Kitty

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^Oh, that's awesome to know. I don't have anything against her work, but the book just happened to have that title, and it seemed like a good set-up for revealing the nickname because the MC's love interest has a master's degree in literature so of course they would talk about books at some point.

Offline ParkerAvrile

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Yeah, if they have a master's or a phD in literature, and they write in English, they would definitely know her. She's  prolific lady, esp. for an academic/literary.  And she's used to people having opinions, I get the idea she doesn't really worry if someone has an opinion as long as they're reading & talking about books.  Her twitter is literally @JoyceCarolOates  & she's there very often with everything from cat pix to political commentary.
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Offline Acheknia

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^Oh, that's awesome to know. I don't have anything against her work, but the book just happened to have that title, and it seemed like a good set-up for revealing the nickname because the MC's love interest has a master's degree in literature so of course they would talk about books at some point.

If you get the go-ahead from the author, maybe it would be better for one character to find it 'boring and insufferable' & the other could 'quite like it'  or have a 'I didn't find it to be like that at all' type response.
Not quite so harsh for the author or liable to put readers off of reading the book if they come across your description first. :)

Offline Paranormal Kitty

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If you get the go-ahead from the author, maybe it would be better for one character to find it 'boring and insufferable' & the other could 'quite like it'  or have a 'I didn't find it to be like that at all' type response.
Not quite so harsh for the author or liable to put readers off of reading the book if they come across your description first. :)

I would have to change the conversation a lot to do that. What happens is that she is reading this book, and he doesn't understand why she likes it because he thought it was boring. He keeps asking her why she likes it, but she can't explain. Eventually, she admits that she also thought it was boring, but she liked the title because it reminds her of her father's nickname for her. Any idea of a good way to re-work it?

Haha - maybe I could dedicate the book to her with an apology :)

Online ShayneRutherford

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Just out of curiosity, how would you feel, paranormal_kitty, if someone discussed your book in their novel, and called it 'boring and insufferable'?
     

Offline Paranormal Kitty

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Just out of curiosity, how would you feel, paranormal_kitty, if someone discussed your book in their novel, and called it 'boring and insufferable'?

Probably be happy if that was the worst thing they had to say.

Offline P.J. Post

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John Green made up a whole book and author for FIOS - to great effect. I enjoy passing pop culture references, they're fun and sometimes meaningful for characters or setting or mood, but not actual discussions and opinions - that always sounds like author intrusion. Even if you could use the reference, I would recommend against it. If you must use a real book, I'd recommend using a super old one that is ages out of copyright - and then change the nickname accordingly.

Offline Paranormal Kitty

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^I'd probably just change the reveal method before changing the nickname. I came up with the nickname (which is pretty integral to the plot) first, then thought of the book. Inventing something fictional might be a good alternative though.

Offline Gabriella West

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It's not a boring book.. I read it in my early teens, and it was absolutely gripping ;) A very intense, Gothic, dark family tale, as I recall.

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Offline LMareeApps

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I would have to change the conversation a lot to do that. What happens is that she is reading this book, and he doesn't understand why she likes it because he thought it was boring. He keeps asking her why she likes it, but she can't explain. Eventually, she admits that she also thought it was boring, but she liked the title because it reminds her of her father's nickname for her. Any idea of a good way to re-work it?

Haha - maybe I could dedicate the book to her with an apology :)

I've never even heard of the author or novel you're referring to, but perhaps you could change the 'boring' description, as that is quite an offensive way to describe a book. Perhaps he 'didn't really get it' and asks her to explain what it's about. She can confess she doesn't really get it either, but she still enjoys reading it because  of the title etc etc.

Personally, not knowing the author or the book, I'd assume you'd just made one up.  You could probably do that - just make up an author and book title to fit...

Offline crow.bar.beer

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No, you can't get in any trouble for a character holding a negative viewpoint about a different book.

Offline Pacman

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I'd be quite uncomfortable describing someone's work as 'boring' - especially if I didn't know them or have permission to describe their book so.

If it was a reader's review, then that's different, as authors we expect to be criticised by readers.

I'd not recommend disrespecting someone else's work just to make a clever point in my own book. I guess the point I am making is that as authors we should show respect to our comrades. It is respectful and honourable to support and promote each other, not to put someone down to promote ourselves.

There is a saying, "we stand on the shoulders of giants." That doesn't mean that we stand on their shoulders to then dump on them.


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Offline ParkerAvrile

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It's not a boring book.. I read it in my early teens, and it was absolutely gripping ;) A very intense, Gothic, dark family tale, as I recall.

You are correct!  If you like Poe & or any of the old school Gothics, she can be a hoot to read. I assume people who think her boring are more intimidated by the length of the books although I clearly see the kinship to King, who is somewhat younger & I assume influenced by her -- at this stage of their careers, they probably influence each other.

Her book, Jack Of Spades, her version of The Dark Half, showed you how she handled a similar question. Stephen King is referenced in the book, but the main character (a bestselling writer of horror who has a secret pseud) is not King, although clearly inspired by him! I don't recall if she asked King first, but I *think* so.

Belle Fleur is not a rare nickname in some parts of French-influenced America. The writer would not need to reference that particular book if it seemed too complicated. One complication that did occur to me is that if the characters are in a top flight academic/literary program, the odds are high that they've actually met her or heard her talk.

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Offline MaryBlaisdell

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Have you read the book yourself, and do you know what considering it 'boring' is going to say about your characters? (I haven't read it, but I can get pretty judgmental about people, real or fictional, who dislike books that I love.)

Offline Paranormal Kitty

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Have you read the book yourself, and do you know what considering it 'boring' is going to say about your characters? (I haven't read it, but I can get pretty judgmental about people, real or fictional, who dislike books that I love.)

I've read Foxfire and quite liked it, but I haven't read this one - just researched it and read summaries. The MC's love interest is highly educated, and he thinks that if he doesn't "get" the book then surely the MC (who is less educated, but more street smart) wouldn't either. I've decided to change the conversation to where he still dislikes the book, but she (the MC) does like it and understand it more than he does, so she sort of "one ups" him.

Offline P.J. Post

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I've read Foxfire and quite liked it, but I haven't read this one - just researched it and read summaries. The MC's love interest is highly educated, and he thinks that if he doesn't "get" the book then surely the MC (who is less educated, but more street smart) wouldn't either. I've decided to change the conversation to where he still dislikes the book, but she (the MC) does like it and understand it more than he does, so she sort of "one ups" him.

Obviously, I have no idea how this plays out in the scene, but I would encourage caution. Some readers might toss your book into the DNF pile at this point, assuming that you're trying to show how clever and insightful you are as an author (ie, smarter than them) - rather than hearing this discussion as being between your characters. No matter how good your intentions are or how carefully you're laying the stepping stones for your story, readers are going to see what they see based upon their own experiences, including other books.

Some DNF elements for me are: anything about a writer, anything brooding, "snarky", TSTL, Mary Sues, three months/6 days/24 hours earlier... and author voice trying to impress.

Offline Paranormal Kitty

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Obviously, I have no idea how this plays out in the scene, but I would encourage caution. Some readers might toss your book into the DNF pile at this point, assuming that you're trying to show how clever and insightful you are as an author (ie, smarter than them) - rather than hearing this discussion as being between your characters.

I'm not really sure what exactly you mean here - do you have examples of someone else who did this? I'm writing a character who has extensively studied literature and has strong (whether correct or not) opinions about it, so it would be strange if he never talked about books. It's an interest he shares with the MC and something they bond over. I don't see why it's different than if they talked about music, movies, food, etc. Not to mention this is a character who had plans to murder someone who was close to the MC and is portrayed as very morally grey, so I don't see how his unfavorable opinion of a book would hurt said book or writer. I can see that argument regarding the MC, which is why I changed that part.
« Last Edit: August 13, 2017, 01:57:32 PM by paranormal_kitty »

Offline P.J. Post

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If we look at the bar scene in Good Will Hunting, where Will goes to the rescue of Chuckie, and humiliates the history student, Clark: the scene is fantastic, partly because it's in a movie and the acting and directing is spot on, but mostly because it's super short. Throughout the movie we see examples of Will being wicked smart, but never how he's going about it. The screenplay never tries to explains the math, it's just big old equations. The same thing goes with the bar scene, it's a few quick shots, directed more at Will's emotional and character development (bravery, loyalty, disdaining bullies and using his mind over his fists) than his intelligence. It was essentially a fight scene.

You don't want Clark for an MC.

Just an opinion from the peanut gallery, feel free to ignore.

Offline brkingsolver

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No, you can't be sued for expressing an opinion about a book. I think it shows a lack of class to trash a book you haven't read.

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Offline D. Zollicoffer

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No, you can't be sued for expressing an opinion about a book. I think it shows a lack of class to trash a book you haven't read.
Gotta agree with this. Don't trash the book if you haven't read it. Adding a fictional one won't hurt the story and I'm sure you can change a few things around without much effort since you didn't read the book (can't really make references if you didn't read it). Also trashing the real book could make some readers roll their eyes and say: "Well. It's better than yours, smartypants!" I know it's the characters, but that won't stop readers from thinking that you personally hate said book.

Offline Paranormal Kitty

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If we look at the bar scene in Good Will Hunting, where Will goes to the rescue of Chuckie, and humiliates the history student, Clark: the scene is fantastic, partly because it's in a movie and the acting and directing is spot on, but mostly because it's super short. Throughout the movie we see examples of Will being wicked smart, but never how he's going about it. The screenplay never tries to explains the math, it's just big old equations. The same thing goes with the bar scene, it's a few quick shots, directed more at Will's emotional and character development (bravery, loyalty, disdaining bullies and using his mind over his fists) than his intelligence. It was essentially a fight scene.

You don't want Clark for an MC.

Just an opinion from the peanut gallery, feel free to ignore.

I see what you mean. I don't the scene in my book is anything like that. It's more like she surprises him by showing her knowledge and opinions about something that he didn't think she could understand. His reaction is more impressed (he is her love interest after all), not humiliated.

No, you can't be sued for expressing an opinion about a book. I think it shows a lack of class to trash a book you haven't read.

I don't really see how one character (who does a lot of bad things at that) expressing a negative opinion could be construed as "trashing"? Characters can have their own personal likes and dislikes. Am I trashing citrus farmers if I write a character that can't stand oranges? What if someone hates Justin Bieber or Star Trek? Are our characters only allowed to dislike fictional things?
« Last Edit: August 13, 2017, 04:48:47 PM by paranormal_kitty »

Offline D. Zollicoffer

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I see what you mean. I don't the scene in my book is anything like that. It's more like she surprises him by showing her knowledge and opinions about something that he didn't think she could understand. His reaction is more impressed (he is her love interest after all), not humiliated.

I don't really see how one character (who does a lot of bad things at that) expressing a negative opinion could be construed as "trashing"? Characters can have their own personal likes and dislikes. Am I trashing citrus farmers if I write a character that can't stand oranges? What if someone hates Justin Bieber or Star Trek? Are our characters only allowed to dislike fictional things?
I think she said that because they really shouldn't be discussing something that you haven't read. You can improve the scene if you take time to read the book. You don't want to just repeat someone else's negative points about the novel. Like, how can you write a convincing debate about something you've never read?
« Last Edit: August 13, 2017, 04:54:58 PM by D. Zollicoffer »

Offline Paranormal Kitty

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Gotta agree with this. Don't trash the book if you haven't read it. Adding a fictional one won't hurt the story and I'm sure you can change a few things around without much effort since you didn't read the book (can't really make references if you didn't read it). Also trashing the real book could make some readers roll their eyes and say: "Well. It's better than yours, smartypants!" I know it's the characters, but that won't stop readers from thinking that you personally hate said book.

As I said in a previous post, I changed it so that one character hates the book while the other likes it. So that should be a wash if we're attributing character opinions to the author. And obviously I'm not trying claim my vampire book is on par with JCO ... rolling my own eyes now.