Back in university, my friends and I decided to put together an online role-playing group, because we were that type of nerd. It would be steampunk-themed, some sort of supernatural detective agency. I forget the rest of the details anymore, but it seemed like a fun idea.
Everyone else was creating doppelgangers of themselves, but I didn’t want to fall back on that, no. Instead, I created a character I hoped would prove interesting to write about: a middle-aged priest who could exorcise spirits and stake vampires. He had a troubled past, a battle with alcohol, and a few other foibles equally human.
Maybe I should’ve just made a character that was just like me, though. As the role-playing amusingly spread to real time, my dorm friends began to treat me… like an unreliable alcoholic they hired from necessity. Having created better versions of themselves, they seemed to have forgotten that I hadn’t.
That was my first taste of being confused with my writing, but I doubt it will be the last.
There are authors out there who will tell their fans that such-and-such character is based on themselves. JK Rowling boldly admits to creating Hermione from her childhood memories, but most self-insertion characters remain slightly more shrouded, merely alluded to in interviews.
“Where did you get the idea for so-and-so?”
“Well, he’s a bit like me, really. In fact, a lot like me.”
I’m going to say once, and probably a thousand more times, I’m not in my books.
Probably more than one of you just scoffed. “How can you not be in your books? You wrote them! Your traits are there, if nothing else, because that’s how you see the world!”
In that, you’re not wrong: my traits are scattered across a dozen characters, piecemealed here and there. I can’t help that. But again, I repeat, I am not a character. Not a single person you will read is based on me.
And I have no desire for them to be. I spend seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day living inside my own head, feeling my own thought patterns, living with my own physical limitations, my own social circumstances. Why would I want to spend extra time there?
That might sound weird, but it’s true. I’m here all the time. My life is the living, breathing book of me. And I’m quite fond of it. I love the supporting cast, and while I think the main character has one or two foibles she could stand to shake, overall she’s pretty alright. Really, I enjoy the story for the most part.
But I don’t have any urge to write it. It’s a nice story, it’s just not what I’m interested in telling.
I’m a firm believer in authors not writing themselves, have been for a long time now. Ever since, years and years ago, when I did write a self-insert fan fic and found myself, in character form, being criticized by readers because I couldn’t put my real flaws on the page.
Just like how, back in that role-playing game, my dorm-mates made themselves just that little bit too perfect. Because showing your flaws is hard, and accepting that people might not like your character if you do so is even harder. Meaning the odds of someone creating a character based on themselves who is human enough to be a good character is slim at best.
When it comes to my novels, I’m far more likely to create people who have almost nothing to do with my personality than people who are remotely close. I like my characters to face dilemmas I’ve never faced, do things I’ve never done. Make choices I’ve never had to make, or at least not on that scale. The people I write are painfully human, with all the troubles and joys and bewilderment that comes with it. They make mistakes, they make the wrong choices, they do what they do because they have flaws.
Sometimes those flaws are strong enough that you might wonder why I’d want to be inside their heads–sometimes I wonder that myself–but you’ll never have to wonder if that is what’s inside my head.
It isn’t. Trust me.
So when you open up something I’ve written and see that beginning bit where it says “This book is a work of fiction, any resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental,” be assured that that refers not only to yourselves, but to this author. I happily write about fake people all day long, and I intend to keep it that way.
Do you write yourself into stories? Have you ever? If so, did you run into any difficulties? Do you think others should branch away from themselves, or authors should “stick with what they know,” so to say? Let me know in the comments below!
6 thoughts on “I Am Not My Characters”
There was one story I wrote years and years ago that so many people claim is me narrating — but it isn’t. And I maintain that to this day. The narrator had certain ticks that maybe I had but I still can’t see the connection, unless it was a question of perception: others saw me more like the character when I most certainly did not. It was (and still is) most irritating. At the moment I’m having loads of fun writing waaaaaaaaaay outside my comfort zone. I’m writing about a steampunk/fantasy/horror about thieves and assassins and existential Orthodox priests and militants. I, as the writer, am scattered through everything I write because it is my story and it’s the story I want to tell. So clearly I’m in it, so to speak. And it’s fascinating to learn about the…shadier side of existence (my browser history makes me look like a felon). I guess this is a long and rambling way to say…challenging yourself is a good idea. I think it makes one a better writer. Just my 2 cents 🙂
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Precisely. It might be fun to pop yourself in the occasional story, but personally I wouldn’t post them anywhere others will see them, or create them as anything but a parody.
With what I’m currently writing, I don’t think anyone will confuse me with my characters, but even so, I guess a little paranoia remains. I mean, I don’t think anyone could confuse me with a 40-something unshaven priest from London, but apparently I have a certain beardiness about me? I can imagine that story would begin to drive you nuts after a while. I know that’d irritate me pretty fast.
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Oh believe me, it does. Which irritates me FURTHER because I *like* that story!!
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I’ve never felt a desire to do this, but I found out people do when I was in Uni learning from other people’s writing. Why it happens? I’m not sure. I spend all my time with me. *All of it*! And that’s more than enough!
I do recall being at a writer’s conference where a girl stood, top-of-line, at the author’s table. She was speaking loudly, gesturing wide in air, and going on at length about the volcano of buried resentment that dominated her main character in her stream-of-consciousness novel. That character was jaded, disgusted by other people’s stupidity — their blindness — and that character, *actually herself*, was unable to escape the rage of it all. How do you end a novel, she asked him, with such a character?! And, honestly, how can you? When it’s *you*?
No one else got through the queue. As for the author, when he fled the room she didn’t miss a beat. She was still talking, hot on his heels. It was a powerful lesson. Writing a novel isn’t writing a journal.
Oh, and don’t spook itinerant authors. They’re skittish! 😀
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What’s the advice I’ve heard? Oh yes: if you write it as therapy, for heaven’s sake, don’t show it to other people! Clearly someone needed to tell that woman that bit of advice. And someone needed to usher her along so people could get through the line.
That’s another big problem with writing yourself: how do you resolve a problem in your book that you haven’t resolved in real life? There might be a couple people out there whose characters manage something the author literally isn’t capable of on a physical scale, but I have a hard time believing that anyone, for example, struggling with moving on from a bad breakup would convincingly write a self-insertion who was perfectly capable of doing so. Not until the author them self had figured that hurdle out.
Glad I’m not the only one who doesn’t feel like spending extra time in my head. That sounds weird to say, but it’s true. Thanks for the comment!
Oh, this was a girl. I can’t imagine she was very long out of High School. Or she seemed to have lots of time to learn. It’s true someone should have been there to move her along, but, in a way, I learned a lot there, and I hope other people did too. 🙂
The big problems I can see are that you can’t critique someone’s character who is ‘them’. It’s just awkward. The other one is, a character that is ‘you’ is hard to move around a plot realistically, and it’s difficult to resolve his / her plot.
I never thought of people writing themselves into the plot as a ‘therapy’ before. That does make some sense! That’s what people journal and blog for, right? I suppose putting yourself in your plot is kind of an extension. But I’m more likely to believe this is a writing error. 😦
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