1. Phruizler
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    Phruizler Member

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    My character is me!

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Phruizler, Jun 13, 2011.

    Hi there,

    I'm wondering if I can get a few tips from anyone who's interested in helping me with the MC in my novel. He's more or less me. There are some key differences of course, but for the most part he shares my views on the world. Don't worry, it's not me living vicariously through my own narcissistic adventures; there's a reason he is the way he is. Here are some of the things I'm wondering, though: What are the pitfalls of writing a character this way? What are some things I should watch out for? I've always heard characters shouldn't be based on their authors, but never heard the reasons for this explained.

    Also, the character imparts a lot of those aforementioned views, among other things, in a fairly steady inner dialogue throughout the story. When engaged in real dialogue, however, and when not alone, he comes across as a totally different person. I'm not sure whether I did this intentionally or not, but I suppose that is the way I am. What I'm asking here is: Does this resonate poorly with a reader? Is this simply dependent on my writing to pull it off? My concern is that in most books I've read, there is some kind of inner dialogue paralleling the events the character takes part in. But since my uneventful scenes are so laden with it, I try to keep the inner world out of the action as much as possible, leaving only my character's dialogue and actions to speak for him, which are often not in line with his thoughts.

    I'm thinking that maybe none of this is problematic and that I'm just over-analyzing and worried, but what do you think?
     
  2. Protar
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    Protar Active Member

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    Well the main problem people have with authors basing characters on themselves is that it implies that they are too lazy or inexperienced to come up with original characters. Also many who do this tend to turn these characters into Mary Sue's as a form of wish fulfillment. Not saying that applies to you but that's mostly why people don't like it as I see it. It can be done but if I were you I'd stick to just a few shared traits. Even if you try to avoid it you could easily start seeing him as you, and give him too much narrative favoritism (which is a term I made up this second.).
     
  3. SteamWolf
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    SteamWolf Senior Member

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    Generally it's a bad idea. It comes across as very narcissistic, but even if it's done as an easy way of inventing someone to write about, generally the "Mary Sue" (as it's apparently called these days) rarely goes through enough character development through the course of the story. Will your MC "you" encounter great challenges? Suffer terrible loss? Recover heroically (without looking like you just wrote your own Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book)?

    One thing you can do is create your characters, and introduce a side character Mary Sue as an "Author Avatar" so you can see what a "normal" person would do in your given situations, and have your MC behave slightly differently to that.

    It's still a cheat and a little narcissistic but I did it on a ridiculously long fan fic I wrote (and subsequently trashed when I realised all the mistakes I made) when I first started. It did help me round out my MC's quite well, and I've since found I don't need an Author Avatar to do this any more.
     
  4. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    Don't listen to those folks! In 2004, Stephen King's Song of Susannah (Volume VI of the Dark Tower) was published. He had written himself into the story as a character of great importance. Like, it was literally him. In the previous instalment in the series, he had brought one of his characters from a prior novel (Donald Callahan from 'Salem's Lot (1975)), but this was very different.

    People who had heard of the series and heard that he wrote himself into the series steered away because they thought it was narcissistic. It was and it wasn't.

    In 2010, I wrote a fictionalisation of events from my childhood that I remembered. After my mum died, my primary school decided to send me to therapy with the counsellor without consulting my Dad or me. It did more bad than good.

    I'm 18 now (17 then). The lead character had a different name, was 21 years my senior (now 20 years), and was an exaggeration of my problems. Not only was it therapeutic for me to write that character in his situation, it was therapeutic for the character; he became very much his own while remaining 100% pure, but an original take on, Jon Landers.

    I'll say now, of any of my characters, Adrian is my finest piece of work because he was so close to me. Because he WAS me. He's the favourite of anyone who reads that particular piece.


    So, the long and short of this post is DO IT. Don't make the character you, though. Make them an original take on yourself. All of my characters have parts of me within them. All of your characters should have parts of you in them (at least, IMO). All you're doing is exaggerating yourself, fictionalising yourself.

    You're then taking the result, which is not you, and putting it through trials and tribulations. The good thing is that you won't be writing YOUR reactions to those happenings. You'll be writing the character's reactions.

    Good luck.
     
  5. Trish
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    Trish I've been deleted.. again Contributor

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    I'm going to have to agree with cruciFICTION. Using yourself as a template is not "too lazy or inexperienced to come up with original characters". Who is more original than you? While there are dangers to doing it and you do have to be careful to not fall into the traps of not being hard enough on your character, not allowing the character arc, etc. there is nothing intrinsically wrong with doing it. If you didn't tell us we wouldn't know, right? Just write your story and work hard to see it realistically for what it is and not through the rose-colored glasses of "but I'm an awesome person!" and I'm sure you'll be just fine.

    EDIT: And be careful to not do it in every book where you just give the character a new name, face, and hometown but it's still you.
     
  6. Quezacotl
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    Quezacotl Contributing Member

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    You're just over analyzing it. Take a break for a while and try writing you story out.

    Most main characters are more or less a reflection of the author, to some degree. Any character could end up as a Marty Stu, it's up to the author's skills to flesh them out and make them plausible.

    Try reading The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien, it pulls this style of story off very well.
     
  7. Phruizler
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    Phruizler Member

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    Awesome! Thanks everyone.

    It sounds like the main contentions are concerned with the character becoming too narcissistic, too favoured, too unrealistic, etc. This is a good thing, though, because I'm not at all worried about this for my character. If anything, I'll be a little too hard on him for being like me.

    I don't imagine a whole lot of readers will know me personally, either, so I don't expect it to be immediately obvious that the MC is me. He's more of a projection of myself as yours was, cruciFICTION, but only a few years ahead.

    Anyway, whether for or against, it's reassuring to have some feedback on this. I think I'll take your advice, Quezacotl, and take a break from writing too much on the MC right now. Flesh the story out a little more, make sure I don't get stuck anywhere, that sort of thing.

    Thanks!
     
  8. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    There's a long history of writers creating characters that are basically themselves, and putting them in classic novels. James Joyce is a good example. His character Stephen Dedalus, who appears in "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" and in "Ulysses", is basically Joyce himself. Also, Thomas Wolfe's "Look Homeward, Angel" and its sequels deal with the character of Eugene Gant, who is basically Wolfe. These books are considered classics.

    Don't worry if your character is you. Just write!
     
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  9. Protar
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    Protar Active Member

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    Using yourself as a basic template is fine. Copying yourself completely is being lazy. It can be done well and if the OP thinks he can pull it off he should go ahead. But it's still lazy. Like I said before just take basic traits from yourself. Exaggerate some, minimize others, remove some completely and add new ones. That way you can make an entirely original character based on yourself.
     
  10. Trish
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    Trish I've been deleted.. again Contributor

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    I'm sorry but I still have to disagree. It is entirely possible to write a book with yourself (and even your life or portions of it) as the MC and have it be MORE challenging than if you make it all up. Because you have to make sure you're not making it too crazy, too perfect, too anything. That it's believable, interesting, etc. And no, I'm not talking about a memoir, some people choose to write about their life in fiction format. This is just my opinion, of course.
     
  11. Protar
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    Protar Active Member

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    Well you have to do that with all your characters (though perhaps slightly more with an author avatar.) . I'm not saying it can't be done well and if the OP thinks he can do it he should. But more often than not it isn't. For every one of those authors people have mentioned that have done it well there are dozens of people that haven't. And even if you have done it well you still haven't spent as much time developing the characters personality so it's still lazy even if it's good. So in summary, can be done well but often isn't so If I were the OP I'd avoid such stigma.
     
  12. Trish
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    Trish I've been deleted.. again Contributor

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    Still going to disagree on the lazy part. We'll just agree to disagree I guess :)

    As far as the whole you'll never be as good as the one who actually did it well theory... well, if everyone subscribed to that we'd still be riding horses for transportation (if we made it that far), we wouldn't have computers, we'd live in caves, we'd cook over open fires (I like smores as much as the next girl, but it gets a little cold in January), etc. Fear of failure isn't a reason not to try. That's lazy.
     
  13. Norm
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    Norm Contributing Member

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    Most new writers I think are warned not to do it because when you put yourself in a story, so many more things can go wrong. You could get emotionally attached to fiction you, you could favor them, make them always win, fail to develop them, the last goes on...

    However, if you are up for a challenge, then go ahead and write yourself in the story.
     
  14. Anonym
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    Anonym Contributing Member

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    The main difficulty in transplanting your essence onto a character is being blinded by your own ego, or an appraisal of yourself not shared by other people. People do tend to be a bit narcissistic. Specifically, thinking your personality or mannerisms (and thus that of the MC) are more interesting & compelling in their own right than they are to other people. Some of the worst amatuer fiction I've read is when the author shamelessly copies-and-pastes themselves onto the MC & contorts the plot to highlight how fascinating they percieve the character/themselves to be - which is part of how the feat can stray into Mary Sue territory.
    Not that I'm remotely implying you've fallen prey to this folly; rather, this seems to be the easiest temptation & way to screw up a story where the MC is based on one's self. I dare say that even if you base a character on yourself, they do eventually grow up & away from you as they are fleshed out by the circumstances of the piece.

    Otherwise, the whole dissonance between inner monologue & outward dialogue could actually be quite interesting if well done, or perhaps more specifically, if the inconsistency seems well-reasoned & consistent(ironically) with his character.

    Why is he/you like that? To guard his vulnerable inner thoughts in precarious contexts? To outwardly play a role, advantageous compared to his true thoughts/feelings, were he to express them? Not as if you need to psychologically dissect your MC, but it's always worth consideration.

    Anywho, I hope my ramblins help a bit. Good luck.
     
  15. Sang Hee
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    Sang Hee Contributing Member

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    I think it doesn't matter if it's you or not. What matters is whether the character would appeal to the reader. Since you don't know who's gonna read it I'd say don't worry much about things like that.
     
  16. Gothic Vampire Queen
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    Gothic Vampire Queen Member

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    The inspiration for this one is really personal (PM if you really want to know), but here is the result:

    The moment the first drop of blood hit my taste buds, I was taken to another world. A world where there is no pain or tears. There is no room for anything except pleasure.

    If her heart beat was the drums, and my pleasure was the guitar and the violins, I would get lost in the music.

    My thoughts wanted to go elsewhere, but I did not allow it.

    She yanked her wrist away from me. I did not want it to end. I wanted to feel alive a little while longer.


    The intent was that I took great pleasure in something, and by Paige yanking her wrist away from my MC, that was when the object (or in this case, the blood) I took great interest was taken away from me. (again Pm if u wanna know).

    It's all about intention and exaggeration.

    Be creative, and please for the love of God, have fun!!! :)

    I really hope I helped you view it differently.

    PM me if you want more examples :)
     
  17. Kio
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    Kio Contributing Member

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    Personally, I can't stand when an author self-inserts themselves into a book. Popular author or no, I just don't like books like that. It's the reason why I can't even read autobiographies.

    You appear to be getting mixed reactions and I believe it's the same for the reading community. Some people will think that it's lazy while others won't mind. However, I think people lean towards a character that isn't blatantly a representation of the writer him/herself. An example of this was when Stephanie Meyer was exposed for having heavily based Bella's appearance on her own. Then again, this isn't a very good example since a) people love to hate Twilight (for good reason, but that's for another thread) and b) this is on outward appearance only. Bella is supposed to be a vessel for the reader, apparently, so she's meant to be almost void of original thoughts/personality.

    I see self-inserting as something only an amateur would do, especially when it's the MC. Many first-time authors make the same mistake of putting themselves as the main character and creating the premise for a Mary Sue. I'm not saying that it will lead to creating a Mary Sue, I'm just saying that it's very tempting to write a story about yourself. It's easier to make the environment and the supporting characters bend to your will because you are the not only the character, but the writer, too. If you make yourself the MC AND the god of your world, I would suspect that it would only make it that much harder to torment the character. After all, not many people enjoy suffering (none that I know, at least).

    My suggestion would be to tweak this MC of yours and distance yourself from him. A writer shouldn't be so close to his/her writing to the point where the author finds him/herself in the book. It seems lazy and amateur to some people. Besides, it's more fun to write about someone you don't know. After living with myself for the past 18 years, I'd like to be someone else for a bit. It's a bit more of a challenge because making a character different from you and realistic is hard. However, the challenge is pretty nice.
     
  18. SteamWolf
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    SteamWolf Senior Member

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    I do agree with many of the points above.
    At the end of the day, never stop writing. Don't listen to anyone that tells you not to do it at all.

    Despite the comments above, I still think it's a bad idea; and simply because Steven King did it doesn't mean it is going to make for a well rounded or interesting story. After all, even the esteemed Mr King has written some absolute twaddle in his time.

    But try it. Write it out and re-read it, and offer it to friends and family and see if they pick who the MC is. Fear of failure shouldn't be a factor with writing as everything we do will be surpassed by the next thing we do. At the very worst it will be good practice and a learning experience. There's always something we learn and improve on along the way.
     
  19. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    Jiang Rong did this with his novel "Wolf Totem", in which he fictionalised his life in Mongolia and experiences on the grassland up until its destruction. It is mentioned in the preface that the main character, Chen Zhen, was a conduit for Jiang to write about those experiences.

    ... I fail to see how avoiding it makes it any better. Better advice would be: Learn from other's mistakes, and if the result isn't good at all and is just narcissistic, don't even think of publishing it.

    Because people totally don't do that with their ordinary characters, do they?

    There's a difference between self-insertion (a la King) and fictionalising yourself. One is very usually bad form and egotistical. The other is challenging, introspective, and life-changing.

    I can't help but think that this is directed towards my commentary, and therefore cannot help by defend my point. Stephen King did it ONCE, and I was mentioning how people who did not read it thought it was crap just because they heard about it. I also feel the need to mention that I know that King's writing is not that spectacular at all times. I was talking about one particular novel.
     
  20. SteamWolf
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    SteamWolf Senior Member

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    It wasn't directed at you at all. It was simply a general statement. Don't take offence by it!

    I think if a story is based on reality or is straight up non-fiction then it's appropriate. As general fiction though I think it is highly likely to not turn out as well as the writer would hope.
     
  21. Protar
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    Protar Active Member

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    I agree that we should agree to disagree. But I didn't say that people shouldn't do it because they can't be as good as the professionals. I just said for each of those there are lots who did it unsuccessfully.

    And as a general statement it's ok to use parts of you for characters. In my current novel I'm working on a fairly important character is based partially on myself, but I've still tried to make him different. It's the wholesale copy pasting of your personality that I disagree with.
     
  22. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    Agreeing to disagree is lazy.

    I could understand if you disagreed with the exaggeration of good qualities and the minimising of bad qualities, but if someone has true introspection and can view themselves with all their different qualities being equal, then where is the problem with "copy pasting" it, so to speak?

    It depends on what kind of plot you're doing, I think. If it's a plot that depends on largely fictional circumstances, then there shouldn't be a problem. The character, even based on yourself entirely, will shift and change as it's put through circumstances you've never been through yourself.
     
  23. Protar
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    Protar Active Member

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    Well if it does that it's fine because they're not exactly you are they. And I think you're misunderstanding me. If you can write an excellent story with you as a main character then good. But mostly people don't and it's all too easy to fall into the trap of being a Mary Sue. And when it comes to character creation yes it's being lazy for the simple reason that it takes less effort. It could be an excellent piece of work that I'd love but it would still be lazy. But that's not necessarily a bad thing if it's done well. Sometimes the easiest way can be better.
     
  24. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    Back in my day, a Mary Sue was a character that had no flaws and was perfect and Just That Special. Nowadays, it seems that a character that someone doesn't like can be a Mary Sue.

    A character that is a written copy of a person cannot be without flaws unless the writer has major ego issues. I also disagree. It most definitely does NOT take less effort. Creating a new person means that you have the ability (yes, there are other, harder ways) to say, "They'll have brown hair, and they are annoying. They chew their fingernails and have hairy knuckles. They hate Asians and like corny cinema."

    Creating a character based on yourself actually means going the hard yards to think about what it is that makes you the person you are. I'm not saying it's harder. I'm saying that it's at least as hard as some forms of creating a perfectly new character.

    I'd also like to throw in the towel on this discussion, otherwise I'm likely to begin insulting you. I really loathe it when someone says, "It's lazy because it's easier" about something that is just as easy/hard as something else. It's bigoted. Please actually think about the effort required for different tasks before you throw out accusations like that.

    Thank you.
     
  25. Protar
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    Protar Active Member

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    Well from a character development point of view it is easier, but yes I already said agree to disagree so lets cut it off here. Although just to point out that is still my definition of a Mary Sue. I was just saying it's a common pitfall with people basing characters on themselves. I realize that this idolized version of them isn't them but it arises from using themselves as a character. Anyway, agree to disagree.
     

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