Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Not an Autobiography

Thought I'd have a little fun discussing how my protagonists are not me.

A lot of people who are not authors assume that our characters are avatars of us. Unless we are writing our autobiography, our characters should really not be us if we're decent writers, though of course we pull elements from our own lives to influence how we express their experiences. However, it occurs to me that I rarely create characters who are "into" what I'm into--I mean, I've never even made a character who writes novels!--so I thought I'd do a short examination of my protagonists' interests, influences, and situations, and how they compare to mine. I'll start with the most recent and go to the oldest.

Nick, from Stupid Questions: Nick spends most of the story trying to get the mysterious minor celebrity Summer to be his girlfriend, and spends the rest of the story trying to figure out unusual aspects of himself.
  • How We're the Same: We both have "outsider experiences" and can be very perceptive, and we both kind of have a similar strong sense of justice and apathy toward organized religion. And we do both like coffee, though he's kind of obsessed with it.
  • How We're Different: He's really into movies and film (though it's not explored much in the book), and he went to college for screenwriting but ended up going into camerawork and now works as a cameraman for the news, while I'm not interested in that in the slightest. He's sexually and romantically interested in women, and has a long history of bad relationships, while I am not and don't. He wants to get married and have kids, while I don't. He was raised by a single dad and has no siblings, while I was raised by married parents and have sisters. He likes to drink and sometimes uses it as a crutch, while I don't drink at all. He likes going out to clubs and I hate them.
Cassandra, from Finding Mulligan: Cassie spends most of her time wishing she was someone else: specifically, she wishes she was her dream-world alter-ego, Dia. In her dream world, Dia falls in love with Mulligan, and Cassie in the waking world chases clues to find out who Mulligan is in her world. In the process, she tries to transform her waking self into a person who's more like Dia. It gets weird.
  • How We're the Same: We were both good in school, we both have a good memory, we both like to bake, and we both have a younger sister. (Well, I have two.) And we're both decent at sketching and singing, and though neither of us is trained in visual art, I'm trained in singing and she isn't.
  • How We're Different: Pretty much every other way. Cassie wants to be someone else and I never did. Cassie is very romantically obsessed with a couple different boys and obviously I am not interested in boys. Cassie is very good at math and physics. Let's just say I'm not. Cassie's sister is chronically ill and none of my family members were. Cassie, as a brown-eyed brunette, romanticizes blue-eyed blondeness as some kind of classical beauty standard, while I always thought it was kind of boring (I guess the grass is always greener?).
Delia, from Bad Fairy: Delia is a fairy from a fairy tale retelling so her world is obviously pretty removed from mine. During her first book, Delia pursues excellence in her magick classes and tries to balance mastery of her craft with the social stresses of being a prodigy. She makes enemies and friends and sets the stage for her role as a fairy tale villain.
  • How We're the Same: We're both cerebral, both found our education mostly unchallenging, and both accomplished things we weren't "supposed" to do at our age. (Delia experienced her magickal manifestation at age two when the earliest previous record was a five-year-old child, while I was tested for reading in kindergarten and was close to a fifth grade level so they just didn't bother assigning me to a reading group and sent me to the labs with the fifth graders during reading.) We both had some social issues as children. We were both kind of misunderstood, but loved by our mothers, and enjoy pushing ourselves. We both rise to the challenge if we are attacked. And we both have long hair.
  • How We're Different: Delia is very serious and dramatic, while I'm really not. Delia alienates people easily because of her sort of creepy obsessions with death and mystery, and I'm not a "dark" person at all. Delia has much bigger problems with self-centered and egotistical behavior than I ever did, though maybe sometimes I can be interpreted that way if somebody sets me off. Delia likes teaching others, and I hated teaching. Delia is a below-average singer and I am an above-average singer. And though Delia is a child in Book 1, she does mature into a heterosexual woman, so she desires relationships with men. I don't.
Bay, from Joint Custody: This introspective little boy from my unfinished probably-MG novel is a child of divorced parents and very insecure about it. His story is about the search for a sense of home and his relationship with a neighborhood girl named Marz.
  • How We're the Same: We're both vegetarian. We both think too much. We both like documenting things. We both didn't have a lot of friends in school.
  • How We're Different: He LOVES animals. LOVES them. I don't ever want to have pets. He likes photography, and I'm not into it. He goes along with whatever his friends want to do and is a lot more susceptible to peer pressure than I ever was. He sometimes manipulates his parents and other adults and I never did that. My parents were not divorced when I was a kid.

Those are the main characters of the stories I'm currently considering my "active" long fiction, but I've written a lot of other stories and I'll jump into my analyses of protagonists from my teen years next.

Ivy, from The House That Ivy Built: This series, written during my college years, is just the formless adventures of a telekinetic teenager who doesn't really want to do anything special except live her life. It's about her relationships and her everyday existence, and sometimes explores the issues of trying to fit in or stand out.
  • How We're the Same: We have both used the chosen name Ivy, and were both given different names at birth. (We did it for different reasons; I used it as a nickname my best friend gave me incorporated into an online handle, and she used it as given to her by a guardian who didn't know her name.) We both have long blonde hair. We both like singing and are good at it. We both have a bit of a reputation in some circles for others not wanting to piss us off. We are both uninterested in sexual relationships with others, though for different reasons.
  • How We're Different: She has an extremely short attention span and an extremely short fuse. I'm extremely patient. She is a poor speller and I'm an excellent one. She's very tall and skinny and I'm very short and just kind of on the slim side. She's very good with directions and distance and spatial calculations, while I'm terrible at finding my way anywhere. She has a jealousy problem and I don't. She likes basketball and gymnastics and I don't. She's got superpowers and I don't. (Haha.)
Skyler, from "Skyler Stories": My incomplete second novel with no real title, written in high school, was about a telepathic middle school girl who didn't really do much except try to find allies and eventually she had to deal with trying to protect her sister from sexual assault.
  • How We're the Same: Same thing with the "outsider experience" and perceptiveness I mentioned with my entry for Nick above. We both had a pretty crappy middle school experience. We're both long-haired blondes.
  • How We're Different: She's the youngest of five siblings; I'm the oldest of three. She was raised by a single mom; I was raised by two married parents. I'm a positive person, while she has a consistently negative attitude and lives in a cloud of pessimism for some reason--my writing for her always seemed to be coated in negativity and sarcasm. She fixates on finding a boyfriend. I never cared about that. Her family is Christian. Mine isn't.
Cristabel, from Double Vision: This terrible science fiction book was my first completed novel, and it featured Crissi and her twin brother Ben getting sent off to a special private school where the teachers are secretly experimenting on them because they and a bunch of other twin pairs were conceived with an experimental drug and now have dormant superpowers. Hooray! It's about them discovering this silliness and escaping from the school.
  • How We're the Same: We both did a lot of squabbling with our siblings. We both like children. We both don't mind taking risks to uncover the truth. (Okay, that's cheesy.)
  • How We're Different: She has a brother (and a twin), and I don't. She likes music that I don't like. She's from a Christian family and I'm not. She hates dressing like her sibling and I kind of liked doing that. 
So, to wrap this up, even though sometimes there are some pretty obvious similarities between me and my characters, the things we have in common always manifest differently through the different lenses and voices of these characters. In some cases, I really enjoy reading about and writing about the people in my books but I think we're not similar people and probably wouldn't be friends. They are never just mouthpieces for my life experiences or my points of view, and if they happen to agree with me on something, well . . . I think that's natural. I think it's super important to write characters who aren't you, and to be aware of what makes them fundamentally different from just writing about what you would personally do in their situation.

That's it!


  1. OK, this was a really interesting post. I should do something like this with my characters! Well, the few that I even have books fully written about: Corinne, Leanna, and Lena. :D How fun.

    1. Thanks for reading! Kinda rambly and long if you have too many characters anyway, so yeah. I'd be really interested to read that post.