In a recent interview in The New York Times, the novelist Philip Roth had this to say: "Whoever looks for the writer’s thinking in the words and thoughts of his characters is looking in the wrong direction . . . The thought of the novelist lies not in the remarks of his characters or even in their introspection but in the plight he has invented for his characters . . . The thought of the writer lies in his choice of an aspect of reality previously unexamined in the way that he conducts an examination. The thought of the writer is . . . in the moral focus of the novel."
There are traits of characters I've created that I identify with, that I wish I had, that I wish I didn't have, that I'm glad I do or don't have. But do my characters speak my thoughts? Well, in the most basic sense, they do; everything they say did come out of my head. But do they speak my outlook, my beliefs?
Mr. Roth, who has been writing and thinking about writing for a lot longer than I have, speaks to the largest and most compelling point on this subject. Writers often (if not always) write because they feel they have something important to say and want to express that. It's very tempting for readers to assume the characters themselves are the sole vehicles of this expression since they (the characters) are the things in the books most obviously expressing something. But, truly, it's the way the world of the book interacts with a treats and leaves the characters that has the greatest meaning. The characters are one of the tools that allows the entire story to express the writer's thoughts.