1. elizabeth243
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    elizabeth243 New Member

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    My main character feels too similar to myself

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by elizabeth243, Aug 25, 2015.

    A big problem that I've been having in moving forward with my writing is that I feel like I've made my main character much too similar to myself without realizing that that wasn't what I wanted to write. The idea for this story definitely started off as a wish-fulfillment thing, which I don't think there's anything wrong with, but I got so engrossed in mapping out the plot and writing the outline that after I finished I looked at it and thought "oh wait, this main character is basically me." And then I realized how much I don't want to write a book where I see so much of myself in this character. And so now I don't know how to take this idealized version of myself and turn it into a character that I can explore further. It feels like no matter how many changes I make, no matter how different I make her family life from my own or how I change her appearance, it still feels like I'm writing through my own point of view, rather than a fictional character's. Any advice would be appreciated, thanks so much!
     
  2. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    This type of character is what's known as a Mary-Sue or Gary-Sue and it's really, really common for authors to create them. Especially when you're just starting out. So, don't feel bad - you're definitely not the only one.

    How do you fix it? Focus on two things:
    1) Flawed characters are far, far more interesting and likeable than perfect ones. If I read about a woman who's so beautiful, smart and awe-inspiring that nobody can ever hurt her or say to no, I want to give her a slap rather than see her achieve her dreams.

    2) You have to put your protagonist through pain. Again, nobody wants to read about a character where the world falls at her feet and nobody can be mean to her. We want a villain to hate her, so we can hate the villain. It has to be a good, strong villain who REALLY tries to hurt her, because then we cheer when she overcomes all the obstacles that get thrown at her.

    If you can't bear to hurt your character, you need to give her some tough love. Make her suffer. Pile on the pressure from all angles until she's forced to act before she gets crushed. That's when we'll relate to her and want her to succeed - not when a romantic hero is falling at her feet because he's entranced by her goddess-like face. She needs to overcome the obstacles with her personality and ingenuity, within her own limitations, not because you're too soft on her as an author.

    What's the worst thing that could happen to you? Would you be devastated if you got a horrible disfigurement? Give her a massive scar that runs all the way down her scalp, giving her an inch-thick bald patch from forehead to neck. Would you crumble if you were falsely accused of a crime and were sent to a tough prison? Throw her in jail! Make her SUFFER something you would never want to suffer, and don't let her get out of it easily.

    *Disclaimer: I'm not actually a sadist.
     
    Last edited: Aug 25, 2015
  3. sidtvicious
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    sidtvicious Contributing Member Contributor

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    Mary Sues are something that plague a lot of beginning writers. Frankly, it's time to kill some of the "idealization" in your character. Start thinking of the character as a separate individual, as opposed to a tool to complete your plot. Pull quirks from your family, friends, peers, strangers on the street, other fictitious characters..etc. Goal here is to create a fluid amalgam of traits, limitations, flaws, strengths, weaknesses, views, ideology..and so on. You want something versatile, but relatable. Conflicted characters make for a compelling plot, as do characters who must overcome real problems. If the character is ideal....there is no conflict, thus no real story. If the world bends to their will there is no story.

    Note: looks @Tenderiser covered most of this while I was typing my own response.
     
  4. Lemon flavoured
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    Lemon flavoured Active Member

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    I usually have at least one character who is based on me in some way, almost never as a main character though. Usually as some kind of advisor or second in command type. I do also try and give them different or more pronounced versions of my character traits. For example the character based on me from the political intrigue story that I'm writing is basically me with the worst parts of my character taken up to 11.
     
  5. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Heh, that's the problem I'm having as well. I just can't bear to watch my characters suffer. I feel like a terrible person when I do. :cry: It's very weird, but I...yeah. :/

    But yeah, I have plenty of characters who share some aspects of me. I keep an eye on those who share the exact appearance and likes as I do. I do not want to have author avatars in my world.
     
  6. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    @elizabeth243 I would recommend

    1) making a list of as many character traits as possible (physical appearance, strongest emotions, goals, accomplishments, failures, hobbies, life history, MyersBriggs personality, Dungeons/Dragons alignment) to see where you and your character are similar and where you are different

    2) If it still bothers you that the similarities are more important than the differences, then you should take one - just one - of the similarities that you find, then force yourself to change that one trait into as strong a difference as possible and see how the whole story changes.

    You may decide later to change the new difference back into the original similarity, but you've still added details to the story such that the trait now means something different to the character than the same trait means to you.
     
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  7. C. W. Evon
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    C. W. Evon Member

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    I like to say that none of my characters are anything like me, but that's probably impossible. I don't think that you can remove every vestige of yourself from your writing, nor do I think that is necessarily desirable. That's why books continue to be written and loved despite the fact that there are no more fresh ideas. Every individual author takes that idea and lends a piece of themselves and their personal insights into it.

    That being said, it's a struggle to keep your main character separate from yourself. Why? Because you're in their mind, and whose mind do you have experience being in? Only yours.

    So what I've found helpful is to make sure my characters are a logical product of their backstory. The backstories of my characters, at least, are never like my own. So I look at that and I think, what traits would develop in this person?

    Take as an example one of the main characters in my WIP. Mollie is a 19th century young woman who was born in Ireland, raised in America. Since I love to read, and have trouble imagining a mind that doesn't, I assumed that she, like every other major character I've ever dreamed up, did too. But then I'm writing along and it suddenly seems natural for Mollie to declare how much she hates to read. I was horrified, and was about to rush in like an embarrassed mother, "Mollie! You don't mean that, honey! You love to read!" I stopped myself and thought about it. Would someone with no formal education, who worked long days in a factory from the age of seven on, realistically enjoy reading? Mollie can struggle through by sounding out each word, but that's a frustrating and slow process. She would be embarrassed if she had to read in front of someone else. Certainly, there's no reason why Mollie would find any enjoyment in reading. So, even though it was as far as possible from myself and what I knew and could imagine, I allowed Mollie to be herself and to hate reading all she liked.

    I don't know what your story's like, but you did mention that your character's family is nothing like your own. So think for a while about what they may have experienced in that family growing up. How would that make them a different person from you? And by all means, as others have said, give them flaws, put them through terrible things. It's okay for them to be a little like you, but focus on how they would be naturally different.
     
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  8. AASmith
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    AASmith Contributing Member

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    I didn't read the other posts so I am not sure if has been mentioned, but I watched a few videos of Stephen King talking about his writing style. He doesn't take notes or maps out plots, if fact he thinks plot can be his worst enemy in writing. He prefers to let the story take the lead and sometimes that means he will end up changing directions in the middle of writing. Now, not everyone will write like Stephen King but I thought I would mention it. In your post it sounds like you feel that you MUST stick to a plot and a map and perhaps you are too strict with your story progression. I do this myself, sometime i have intention A for my story but then during the course of writing im like "nahh I was story to go from A to B now."
     
  9. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Hi Elizabeth, and welcome to the forum. :)

    For starters, you're filtering everything you write through yourself, so I think there's no escaping self-insertion ;). Perhaps because you wrote so heavily yourself into the story, now whatever you do feels like a copy of you? Because I can't really say I've ever felt like that when writing. My characters are fractions of me, but they come in all shapes, sizes, and sexes, so they feel sufficiently different from me.

    Anyway, if you don't want to idealize yourself but feel like you can't escape writing one version or another of yourself into the story, at least write a realistic one. Stop idealizing yourself. Face your flaws head-on. I seriously doubt you're perfect (or maybe you're a Victoria's Secret model who's also a stunt car driver, doctor, athlete, and philantrophist, of course I don't know). Secondly, you could give your character a dilemma and make her decide differently than you would in a given situation. You can also give her different principles or values than you hold that can affect her entire personality and the way she looks at life. Say, you believe in God -- make her an atheist. You abhor violence and guns -- make her practice self-defence and carry a gun for protection. You have no trouble committing to a relationship -- make her freak out about stuff like "losing her independence and freedom." Just put yourself into another person's shoes; make her of different ethnicity than your own, make her overweight if you're skinny, gee, maybe she even has a different taste in men than you.
     
  10. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Just wanted to add something here, if the character is so opposite that you can't stand writing him/her, no harm in putting in attributes of yourself into him/her. You just don't want him/her to be an exact clone of you (which I'm guessing is what you're trying to avoid.)
     
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  11. Shattered Shields
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    Shattered Shields Gratsa!

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    Wait. So if I base a character off myself, then they're a mary/gary sue already?

    Seriously?
     
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  12. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    It depends. If you make a character that's nigh unstoppable, totally lovable by everyone (and those who don't are the bad guys), are as flawless as crystal, etc., then you run the risk of having a mary/gary-sue.

    What makes a character not a mary/gary-sue as I understand, is a character that has flaws, quirks, and real emotions. A character, while tough when needed, isn't afraid to show vulnerability. He/she is also not perfect, others will call him/her out on whatever thing he/she did and they're not treated like total monsters for daring to criticize whatever terrible/stupid/insane thing your character did.
     
  13. Shattered Shields
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    Shattered Shields Gratsa!

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    Ah okay, good. I've only based 2 characters off myself, they're both "unpacked" over the course of the story. Either I pick them apart indirectly, or have them open up to another character (probably both will happen), but either way, the reader knows their fears, their weaknesses. That sort of thing.

    And they get called out, many times. One is a lost Prince seeking to claim his throne, so his decisions are constantly put to question, and the other is a big league snowboarder (for an SSX fan fiction), so he gets criticized plenty.

    So I think I'm set.
     
  14. DeadMoon
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    DeadMoon Contributing Member Contributor

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    This happens to more then the beginning writers. Stephen King himself has admitted to writing about himself in such works as the Shining of course this was after the book was finished.

    My take on it is this... In dreams they say that you are everyone you see, in a way that could relate to writing as well. Some part of you, be it a characteristic or mannerism or even physical description, could be a part of the author him or her self, from the newest scribbler to the most seasoned author I would think it damn near impossible for any writer to not let their own blood bleed into there work.
     
  15. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    Make her act badly/immoral. Make her do something you would never do. Then let her take the consequences of her own actions.
     
  16. nhope
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    nhope Contributing Member Reviewer

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    Maybe before you change your story, you should think about why it bothers you so much. Maybe you should continue with this story and see how it ends up. Don't be afraid to put yourself in your work - much of what is revealed may surprise you - either way.
     
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  17. Australis
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    Australis Active Member

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    Many famous authors write fiction based on themselves, or parts of themselves. The king of horror for one.
    And there are other famous authors who hate to have their characters suffer. Angie Sage (who is one of my favourite authors) has the failing of not killing her characters.

    It's not necessarily bad. It just depends on whether you write good stories.
     

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