Sunday, May 27, 2012

Who, Me? No. No-no-no, That's Definitely Not Me

Most of us remember autobiographies from our Elementary School book-report days. I've personally always found the concept of them to be kind of conceited--writing a book about yourself, and how awesome you are. However, around the time I finished my first manuscript ("Whatever's Left," which happens to be available on from Solstice Publishing . . . since you mentioned it and all), I got to thinking about them in a different sense.

Ask most authors, and I'm sure a lot of them will admit to injecting elements of themselves into their characters. It's really almost impossible not to. When you're creating an entire person, and trying to generate a pseudo-relationship between them and your reader, you've got to round out the edges, scuff up their knees a bit, and give them some heart. And sometimes what you end up with is a character who bears at least a slant resemblance to you.

I was guilty of a lot of autobiographical fiction with my first novel. I started it my freshman year of college, when I was nostalgic for home and how things used to be. The first draft of that book had characters named after old friends, scenery nearly identical to the town I'd grown up in, and a main character who really had a voice similar to the one you'd find if you cracked open my diary.

As all writers do, I edited and re-drafted and got better each time I did, until I was satisfied with the final draft, and also satisfied that I'd made it into its own story, instead of a what-could've-been version of my own. And then came the miracle and curse of people actually reading it.

Since I sent "Whatever's Left" to my first beta reader, I've gotten everything from "Is this supposed to be you? She has brown hair like you. It says so right here" to "You can't have the dog named Moose. Your dog is named Moose." (The second thankfully came from a good friend and fabulous beta-reader who caught my faux pas before any publisher was remotely interested in the book)

So I guess the conclusion I've come to is that it's impossible--at least for me--not to put a bit of yourself into your characters. When you think about it, you put so much of yourself--in the blood, sweat, and tears kind of way--into a manuscript, when it's finished, you really should find something familiar there.

But I will say this as well: I'll never write a main character with brown hair again :)



Lisa Tapp said...

You're right Nikki. I think we all leave bits and pieces of our own lives in our work - an emotion, a response - something that is true and personal. It's what makes our work unique.
Thanks for sharing.

Katie McGarry said...

I always put a small piece of myself into all of my characters. Sometimes intentional. Sometimes not.

Nikki Archer said...

My very first MC was wayyyyy over-the-top. Looked like me, talked like me, similar likes and dislikes . . . .Now I have a better balance lol

Kurt Hampe said...

Well said Nikki. If I base my MC on me, then hopefully it's only at the bottom of the character arc, and the character grows from there. I like to think the characters are based more on who I wish I would have been in a given situation--as if THAT isn't based on me, right? Freud would have a field day.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

There is definitely a little of me in each of my main characters, but not enough for people to think the characters are me. :D

Elana Johnson said...

Brown hair is out? That's like 75% of the population! Ha. But yes, we put ourselves in our characters, at least a little bit. For me, it's names. I want to put in the names of the people I love and that can be problematic.