"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Don't call me Clark.

Raymond Strait, a writer I met at the Southern California Writer's Conferences, once told me that all the stories we tell are a little bit autobiographical. He may be right; even when we are writing about other people, we pour so much of ourselves onto the paper, it's hard not to mix a little of our spirit in with the words.

Writing fiction always begs the question: is the author living vicariously through their protagonist?

In other words, is Peri Minneopa my alter-ego?

Yes and no. Physically, we are nothing alike, except we are Caucasian. I am a petite redhead and she is a tall blonde. We've both been married three times, but I'm still married to my third husband, quite happily so. We are both impatient and stubborn, and get cranky when people are stupid; the difference here is that Peri has less filters to stop her from saying what she's thinking.

For example, it's become very common when I go to the grocery store, for people to think that the crosswalk markings are some kind of force field that will repel any car trying to enter their space. As I creep into the parking lot, driving so slowly the needle doesn't even register my speed, a shopping cart will barrel out in front of me, pushed by a clueless person. They can be male or female, usually on a cell phone, and always with their back to me.

Here's the difference between Peri and me: I slam on the brakes and give them my best "you idiot" stare. Peri would slam on the brakes, lay on the horn and yell, "Get out of the way, you moron! If I hit you I'll have to clean up the mess!"

Peri argues with authority and fights with her boyfriend, Skip, too. I have to believe that I'm absolutely correct in order to challenge people. Peri only has to think she's possibly right in order to debate someone. She tries to be tactful, but she can only hold her tongue for so long.

So does this mean I'd like to be like Peri? Not really. I like her, would be friends with her, but I don't want to be her. I like my third husband. And I like knowing when to shut up - I think that's a valuable skill.

Now it's your turn. If you are a writer, what qualities do you share with your main character? What qualities would you like to share?

If you're a reader, who are
the characters you like to live through? Who would you trade places with, if you could?


Enid Wilson said...

I like Peri! She can yell at those idiots. We all need an alter ego, I think.

Fantasy stories by Enid Wilson

Anonymous said...

Good post, nice visuals, and nice the way you asked a question at the end. My lead characters are to varying degrees autobiographical also. And ALL my characters are drawn from real life experiences and people I've known - although sometimes they are an eclectic synthesis of several people.

Marvin D Wilson

N A Sharpe said...

I really like this post. We all encounter those clueless idiots on the cell phone that think the world is supposed to get out of their way in spite of the fact that they are (fill in the blank) jay walking, pulling out of a parking place or into traffic because they are on the phone and not paying attention... I also tend to let it go with a nasty look.

Characters in my books are often based on real people but usually with a significant addition (or deletion) of a particular personality trait, or sometimes a hybrid blending of what I imagine two personalities blended into one character would be.

NA Sharpe

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

I didn't think I had anything in common with my main character until someone pointed out that we both were creating new identities for ourselves. It was an eye opener for me! But it was true – by becoming a published author I’ve been forced to change from 'retired tourist' to professional writer.

Jane Kennedy Sutton

joe doaks-Author said...

I try very hard to NOT let what *I* would do creep into protagonist actions. I simply try to use logic and reasoning to determine what the average person might do in a given situation, then tailor that to my character's profile and history of action so there's some consistency.

Teresa Burrell, Author, Attorney, Advocate said...

My main character in The Advocate, Sabre and I shared the same profession and had a lot of the same experiences in court, but aside from that we are quite different. She's younger, prettier, taller, and probably a little smarter than I am. So, maybe I do want to be more like her...at least the younger part.

Great post.
T http://www.teresaburrell.com

C. Margery Kempe said...

I love alter egos! I always see the world through the characters I'm immersed in at any given time. It's so much fun playing with new personas. I don't know why anyone wouldn't love to write!

KK Brees said...

Not only are our writings autobiographical to some degree, they also allow us to get some cheap therapy. It's very therapeutic being able to tell the jerks what you really think of them without having to suffer the consequences in your real life.

KarenK.Brees, Ph.D.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I really enjoyed your post! My main character in my August release is part me, part my grandmother (the character's bad traits are all mine, though.)

Sometimes it can be really cathartic to have characters do things that we either can't or won't do in our own lives.


Jina Bacarr said...

My character, Lady Eve Marlowe, is a dancer...something I pursued professionally. So, yes, I believe we do tend to draw from our experiences when we create our characters.



Ann Parker said...

I'm casting another vote for Peri! She sounds like a great character...

For my Silver Rush series, I draw on the people around me (!look out, co-workers! ;-) ) for character traits. I also draw on the "people of the times" from autobiographies, biographies, letters, etc. etc. And some of it, I'm certain, comes from within, but it all gets mixed up together.
I'm not my protag, Inez Stannert, that's for certain. I can't drink like her, can't play poker as well as she does (wish I could, though, or am I as quick on my feet or with a snappy comeback. But it's fun to live "vicariously" through writing about her!

AlanChinWriter said...

Galen, Yes I see a little of myself in all my character. My many of my characters are who I would like to grow into. The quality I most value in myself that I put in my character is integrity.

Thanks for sharing

alan chin
author of Island Song

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