Fear in Writing: Do you write yourself? (Comment-Driven Post Series)

Today in Literary History

Today in Literary History...December 14, 1907: Rudyard Kipling receives the Nobel prize for literature, the first English-language writer to do so.ud

Friday, June 4, 2010

Do you write yourself? (Comment-Driven Post Series)

Paying attention to comments is important!  I say that because this post was inspired by a comment on  a previous post.  The post was Strange Combinations, and I asked: Do you intentionally make your characters alike or very, very different? Do you count on strange combinations to entice your readers?

Corra McFaddon, who blogs at From the Desk of a Historical Writer, replied:

Yep, definitely. And I didn't do it on purpose. It's as if one character filled in the holes of the other - like they knew to move together to create something more balanced. Our characters are ourselves, I reckon. So likely we create in characters who we want to be - and who we really are.
- Corra
So today I ask you, is Corra right?  Do we create characters like ourselves?  Do we create them with our flaws, or do we create them as our ideal?  Do you strive to be the characters you write?
My answer: No.  I certainly write from a comfortable place.  I set my MS in Nashville, the city in which I grew up and spent most of my life.  But the characters I have created are pretty dissimilar from me.  My MC is a detective who killed his girlfriend when they were teenagers.  The killing haunts him, because his own father was also a murderer: guilty of killing my MC's mother.  Over the course of my series, I plan to develop this sub-plot, turning it into the plot of one book on down the line.

Does he have things I want to have?  Yes.  He lives in a condo in downtown Nashville, the trendy part of town (though now the waterlogged part).  He has no ties--children, wife, family--and therefore has complete freedom.  He investigates interesting crimes and digs into history every day.  These are things I would enjoy and of which I am probably a bit envious.
And, even as I say no, I realize I just created a second MC who is a lot more like me.  She is a TV news reporter struggling to overcome personal tragedy.  Where hers is a rape and abortion, mine is depression and fibromyalgia.  Did I mean for this to parallel so much?  No, but the words flowed out.

Do you write yourself?  If you are not a writer, but a reader, can you tell when a book mirrors its writer?  Do you like that?

*This is the first of several comment-driven posts.  You all spark ideas in me, so keep 'em comin'!


  1. It's natural to rewflect yourself in the stories at first, but I'm working to lessen this.

  2. Oh I think every character and every description, every time of day and tree in my writing is connected to me on some level but hey, I'm a psychotherapist! To me it is like doing dream work or even how I think of things as a Buddhist - reality is dreamlike and definitely the worlds we create are dreamlike - we will include our wounded selves and our potential selves in everything we create. My protagonist in the work I'm in right now is not like me much - she is quiet to my gabby, smarter than me, relates to her family differently etc...but sure - she is me in many more nuanced ways. Don't we write and marry and paint and talk to find out who the heck we are?

  3. I don't know.

    I think ultimately we need to write what we know EMOTIONALLY. If we've never experienced hate or anger, we'll never write well. We need to create our character's emotions based on ourselves and our feelings.

    For instance, I may not have lived any of my serial killers lives but I need to understand his motivations to write him or her properly. Where does that understanding come from?


    I know what it's like to believe strongly in a cause, to feel love and hate, to want something really bad. I am not any of my characters but all my characters are bits of me.

    My current MC is weak. I'm not weak but I have been. Could I ultimately become any of my characters... emotionally? Perhaps. I have never lived or worked or do I physically look like any of my characters.

    Our strongest characters, in my opinion, are extreme emotional recreations of ourselves.


  4. I want to thank you for writing this post, Michele. You've really made me think today. I love a good debate. Great, great post.


  5. I might have aspirations to be like one of my characters, but none of them are me. Their strongest characteristics are not mine.

  6. When I first began writing my series, several characters possessed aspects of me. One in particular was a lot like me.
    The characters became less and less like me as the stories progressed. The last book featured a character that was the exact opposite of me and it was the most difficult to write. Ironically, it was also the best reviewed of the five books.
    I think stretching and exploring new character aspects is important for a writer, even if it's difficult to do sometimes!

  7. Yes and no,
    I believe that when one begins to write a new character, that character is born, in part, out of some aspect of the person writing them. I don't believe that the entire persona of the character comes from the writer, but there is always a part - a snippet of the writer's personality or some physical trait within.

    Funny thing though, as the character grows and develops on the page, or within the writer's mind, the character will undoubtedly take on a complete personality of its own.

    Many of my main characters in my stories are women. I know it seems odd that I would write a woman as a main character, since I am of the opposite gender, but that's what I find most difficult - and most rewarding - in writing. And, I must say, even my woman characters always seem to have some portion of me in their personality, whether I realize it or not.

    So, to justify my yes and no response, I believe that we do write ourselves in our characters, Although, sometimes just the smallest notion of ourselves. But, our characters soon build from that small piece of us and use it as a springboard in forming their own personality. Of course it is still the writer what-if'ing the possibilities, but that is the fascinating thing about fiction writing. The writer is enabled to explore other persons, lifestyles, and personalities, in the comfort of our own homes.

  8. Some parts of me show up in my characters but I think that happens naturally. I don't intentionally do it. However, I do take bits and pieces of other people's personality and develop characters based on them.

  9. Will- Being aware of it is the first step.

    Jan- So even if there aren't direct connections, we are writing toward a purpose: discovery of the True Self. So we may actually be CREATING ourself. Interesting...

    Clarissa- First, I'm glad you've never lived the life of a serial killer! Second, if you look at the quote in my "about me" section by Robert Frost you'll see that I agree with you. It says "No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader." We must emote to create emotion. Sure, we can write of experiences we have never had, but, in a way, we have them as we write them.

    Clarissa again- You're welcome! I love debates, too. I love when people are moved by something on here. Thanks for taking the time to say so!

    Alex- I'd imagine that's some of the fun of Science Fiction: living out a fantasy life of exploration.

    Diane- I wonder if writing YA gives you a chance to rewrite your youth? Maybe that's another question for another day.

    JL- My MC is a man, so I don't find it odd at all that you'd write a femail MC. In fact, I feel more comfortable writing in the opposite gender for some reason. I wonder why that is? Maybe it is to escape writing one's self. And I believe what you are talking about is your characters taking over--which is what they're supposed to do!

    Karen- Aaaah, the ever dangerous taking parts of friends to create characters! Be careful they don't dislike who you write them to be.

  10. All my characters have a bit of me in them. Or who I want to be, sometimes. I guess I've worked at developing empathy, so even my female characters are people I think I understand. And if I understand them, it's because I understand myself, at least in some way. In that sense I write what I know, or what I can imagine based on what I know.

    Great post, good lady!

  11. Bummer on the fibro -- I have that, too, and some days ... ack. I'm much better than I was, thank goodness.

    My characters are a combo of my own flaws and my own ideals, I think. For one thing, the women ALL have clean houses. :-P

  12. My main characters are definitely not me, because that would be dull. I try to write people that aren't me in situations I've never been in. I was an actor for years and I learned you don't have to be similar to a character in order to act them; just the ability to stretch your imagination.

  13. I don't think I'm my characters. They're braver and gutsier than I am. They are more hot-headed as well. I like them, but I'm not them :)

  14. Simon- I suppose it would be impossible to completely erase ourselves from the equation! Interesting that you way "especially" your femail characters.

    Cynthia- I'm not sure what a "clean house" is, but I get what you're saying! :P Sorry to hear you also have the fibro. Not fun, eh?

    Elspeth- My mother was an actor, too, and she taught me the same thing. I hadn't thought of the comparison before though--thanks for making the point!

    Jemi- They sound like fun to write, but we all like you, too! And you sound pretty gutsy to work in that school late at night...

  15. There is always some element of me, be it a character trait, a situation, an emotion in my stories. Some fragment. Are my characters me..No. But sometimes they become a person I would like to be.

  16. What a great series this is! I'm late to the party! :) :)

    My characters are never intentionally like me, but as they evolve, even the 'villains' reflect who I am -- or who I might be, or whom I've experienced. This so true that I have to back away from them in intense scenes because writing them is too close to home. I tend to write the scene the way I want it to play out, rather than how it needs to play out for the novel. (Victim wins; victim is strong; villain backs off; villain isn't a violent thread.)

    I agree with Clarissa that we need to have experienced certain emotions to write the reactions to them within a scene, but I believe I'm a weak writer at this point because I cannot separate myself enough from a scene/emotion to put the characters first and myself last.

    It needs to be a balance. I know that's a line hammered about everything in writing, but it really is true. My dad taught me to 'take out half the error' in everything I do. Never react in black and white. I believe that's true of writing. No character should be fully me; nor should they be fully void of me.

    Really great series idea, Michele! :-)

    - Corra

    the victorian heroine