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  1. FirstStarofDawn
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    FirstStarofDawn New Member

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    The problem with protagonists...

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by FirstStarofDawn, Mar 23, 2011.

    In much of what I have written is this. They are me. I hate this. I mean. They aren't me exactly. They do have some differing opinions and views, but much of the core events of their life, events that shaped who they have become, are strikingly similar to my own. Now, this could mean one of two things. I am either really bad at crafting a totally fictitious person in my noggin, or I just have a REALLY interesting history. And since the later is such a ridiculously arrogant statement, I have to assume the prior.

    This being said, I have a small rebuttal. A writer can only write what they know, and because of a humans limited perspective, a writer can only create a character within that limited perspective....

    Now, I have read that writing characters similar to yourself is a 'no no' in the creative writing world. But I ask why? If your literary doppelganger is just that, is their inherently anything wrong? I mean, because of my limited perspective, I can only create a character based off myself in some fashion or another.

    Or? Is a directive to step into a limitless perspective?

    All this babbling aside...how close is too close? When does a character cross the threshold from being a creation, to a...dimensionally dislocated autobiographical representation?

    So, in summary. What is inherently wrong with "writing yourself" as a protagonist? And, how close can you come to yourself, without stepping into the boundary of your being?

    I can give examples of some of the characters I have created if needed.

    Hope to hear your thoughts.
    -FirstStarofDawn
     
  2. Dandroid
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    Dandroid Senior Member

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    who says that developing characters similar to one's self is bad? all of my characters have concrete aspects of me within and without them...
     
  3. Ion
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    Ion Senior Member

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    I base all of my characters off of some aspect of myself. While I keep my apathy and sadism well in check, they do make for really good antagonists.

    If you're looking for some different personalities to start with, I recommend basing a character or three off of a family member or friend. Maybe even someone you really don't like.
     
  4. Trish
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    Trish I've been deleted.. again Contributor

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    I am writing a book right now that has the MC based entirely on my life experiences. The other book I'm working on the MC has very little of me. I write what works for me. I don't see the problem, but that's just my opinion.
     
  5. FirstStarofDawn
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    FirstStarofDawn New Member

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    Hmmm..I guess nobody specific said it was bad to base a character off yourself. But a few months ago I went on a huge kick of what amasses to "How to write good" Google searches. And on many, if not all, of the sites I read, their main gripe with fledgling writers, was that they based their protagonists too closely on themselves. May of these sites considered it a poor practice. I guess I kinda took it to heart.

    I guess large fear of mine is createing what some call a Mary Sue, or what ever the male equivalent is. Not that I have ever actually written fan fiction.
     
  6. Trish
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    Trish I've been deleted.. again Contributor

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    As Ion said, if you're really worried about it, try basing some of the characters off of other people you know well. I think you'll find that even when they are largely you, they get to do things you couldn't, or wish you could, and so they become unique and different anyway.
     
  7. KP Williams
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    KP Williams Contributing Member

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    I wouldn't put too much emphasis on what you find through Google, especially if you search for the literal phrase "How to write good." Any site that matches that search to the letter should be avoided at all costs. :)

    I'd also suggest taking these sites' advice with a grain of salt because these nameless, faceless people on the Internet don't know the first thing about your story. They have no clue what works for it and what doesn't, so how can they give foolproof advice on something as specific as the lead character? I'm intentionally basing my narrator off of me--in fact, he IS me, right down to the scar on my hand and how it got there--because that's what works for my story. I don't think I could pull it off if this character were from my imagination. The story is essentially a prolonged daydream of the life I wish I were living. If the star were anyone other than me, it would feel kind of like someone else stealing my place in the world. Wouldn't be able to do it.

    See? I declare these advice givers wrong, because I know from experience that the "Author-based characters are bad!" philosophy is bull. Williams is one of the best characters I've ever written, due in no small part to the fact that I know exactly how he thinks and acts, seeing as he's me and all. If I can't write a believable character out of that, then I fail not only as a writer, but as a human being.

    Beyond that, the only things I can think to say have been said. I see no merit in repeating them.
     
  8. Arathald
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    Arathald Contributing Member

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    To provide the dissenting view on this topic, it's often taught (based on the several very good books I've read on writing) that the protagonist shouln't be based on the author (though I think having a couple of the author's traits is okay), or even on real people the author knows: you'll get too hung up on what that person would do, which we don't always know, and we need to think about what the character would do, and besides, if that person reads the book, recognises themselves, and doesn't like it, you're in trouble!

    This is one reason that authors often model their characters ahead of time based on archetypes. If you have a good framework of your character's attitudes and motivations, then you'll easily be able to flesh out a believable character who isn't you. I used to have this trouble myself, and, I've gotta say, using an archetype really helped me make my protagonist his own man.

    What about a site called "How to write good fiction?" :p
     
  9. spklvr
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    spklvr Contributing Member Contributor

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    Whether you're able to pull of writing a character based on yourself or not, also depends on your ability to look at yourself objectively. At least in my opinion.

    Sometimes people put themselves in stories to live out a fantasy, and there nothing bad ever happens to them. To top it off, the character is often flat and dull because you can't write yourself properly, and you don't have a full grasp of how people see you. As an example, I find my ability to relax delightful, and I wish other people could be more like that. While pretty much everyone else on this planet would think I should get off my ass. This is something I only know because the people around me are kind enough to point it out.

    When you make up a character that really isn't you, you can more easily tell how other people will view them, as you are kind of one of the other people. I say that, but there is nothing wrong with putting certain aspects of yourself into characters. It's carbon copies I'm talking about.

    Though of course some people really do have a good grasp of who they are and can write a good story about themselves. It's all about being able to portray the bad as well.
     
  10. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    I always run into problems making my MCs the same age range/occupation/personality/etc as me because then I don't have to work as hard or think much to develop them, so they end up flat.
     
  11. Taylee91
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    Taylee91 Carpe Diem Contributor

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    Ah, yes, the old mary-sue deal. It's not easy to avoid at times or side-step.

    Well, I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with writing yourself in. It is, as you said, writing what you know. But I wouldn't go over the boundary of naming your character your name or giving some of the same associations to him/her that you have. The only thing I would give my character that resembled me in any way would be his/her feelings and thoughts. That's about the one thing I know that people can't touch. They can't touch what I feel, how I think, or what I say.
     
  12. Taylee91
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    Taylee91 Carpe Diem Contributor

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    Yes, I agree here. If you want to avoid stalemating your characters, give them conflicts or goals. Anything. This will set them apart from you if they are like you and draw them closer to the three dimensional realm.
     
  13. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I am the same as Mallory - closest thing I have to a mary sue wish fulfillment is a seven year old boy. My others are teenagers, gay men and pensioners - much easier than writing a middle aged woman living in North Scotland lol
     
  14. Gingerbiscuit
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    Gingerbiscuit Senior Member

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    I can rarely avoid putting myself into any of the characters that I write. Even if it's just their opinion on a nice blueberry muffin, a part of me always creeps into them. I don't think that can be avoided, especially if you've got something you want to say in your story.
     
  15. cybrxkhan
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    cybrxkhan Contributing Member

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    There's nothing wrong with it, inherently, but I do think it can be risky depending on the story. I do it all the time, however, and I can safely say that most of the protagonists in my stories are based off of me one way or another.

    Still, a way you can go around this is to have the protagonist focus on certain aspects of your personality or interests, and extrapolate from there, and try to change the reasons behind such traits, or what the characters do with such traits. For instance, many of my protagonists (like me) are cautious, calm, and a bit snarky at least on the outside. However, where such cautiousness, calmness, and snarkiness comes from can differ from character to character. One protagonist has to remain calm and cautious because he is a surrogate father to many of his friends (who either are orphans or have parents who are somewhat absent from their lives), and he also has a lot of responsibilities from a young age, so it is important that he keep a calm and authoritative appearance at all time; snarkiness is really his only way to go around that calmness, by expressing possible frustrations he might have with something. Another protagonist is calm only because he is actually insecure about his self-image and his relationships, and so he tries to not reveal his emotions or his attitudes, fearful that it might get to someone.

    While the two might seem similar at a superficial level, and thus similar to me at a superficial level, by developing or focusing on certain aspects of yourself into different directions, I have (hopefully) made two characters that, while based on me myself, are unique in their own right.
     
  16. Allegro Van Kiddo
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    Allegro Van Kiddo Contributing Member

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    You can't create a character that doesn't get passed through your filter of bias whether they're positive or negative. So, all characters you create and things you do, including how you brush your teeth is about you.
     
  17. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    This.

    You should understand that a large number of novels, most particularly first novels, are autobiographical. This includes many classic novels, such as Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward, Angel and Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell To Arms.

    The trick, I think, to avoiding the Mary Sue syndrome is, as spklvr says, to be able to look at yourself objectively. See your flaws as well as your virtues. Don't pretend to have virtues that you don't really possess.

    It is okay to write fictionalized autobiography.

    One major problem is that, given that struggling young writers are struggling young writers, they tend to write about struggling young writers. So a lot of first novels are about struggling young writers who are very much like the struggling young writers who wrote them. It's almost as though if you don't like novels about struggling young writers, you should avoid first novels generally, because they'll probably be about struggling young writers.

    I guess the virtue of the Hemingway book I mentioned above is that it's NOT about a struggling young writer. Hemingway, at the time, was a wounded World War One ambulance driver, and that's what he wrote about.
     
  18. Smoke
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    Smoke Contributing Member

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    It's a little odd that only one of my characters is a writer, and it's even an inferred ability.

    One of my characters is a temporary secretary and a doll-maker, both things that I have tried sporadically. Mostly things from my childhood showed up as her history, and her writing skills are only in a journal and posting to the internet.

    The writing character is a shameless self-insert, complete with having an in-story muse or with one of the characters serving the role. It's mostly idea-jotting for random adventures that happen for no reason.
     
  19. funkybassmannick
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    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

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    ALL of my characters are essentially me. Even my most evil of antagonists. When it's a crazy random silly character, I tap into my crazy random silly side. When it's a righteous peace-lover, I tap into my best qualities. When it's a cold-blooded killer, I delve into my darker side. They might be vastly exaggerated, but I'm in there somewhere. I think it's essential for strong characters.

    Tite Kubo, creator of the manga "Bleach", once said that all his characters are some aspect of himself magnified. And, if you read/watch bleach, you'll see a whole gamut of personalities.
     
  20. funkybassmannick
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    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

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    That's one thing I'm always aware of. When a book or movie is about a writer. It's usually really convincing, even if it can distract me from getting lost in the material. 30 Rock has a lot of characters that are the writers for a TV sitcom, and I love those characters. They're probably all based loosely off the actual writers of 30 Rock.
     
  21. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd be curious to hear the examples.

    One possibility could be to base your characters on yourself, but in a funhouse-mirror sort of way, magnifying some of your traits and shrinking others.

    For example, when something annoying happens to me that's my own darn fault, I have a tendency to want to blame someone else. I spilled my dinner while walking to the couch? It's because _you_ insist on turning the lights down too low and I couldn't see where I was going!

    I generally have the sense and self-control to stop myself before I actually verbalize the blame, and the blame passes within a few minutes or even seconds when my annoyance dies down. But my characters might not control the impulse to blame, and might not be able to see that the blame is unjustified. Magnifying faults like this can prevent that Mary Sue.

    Or you could rearrange a trait. For example, rather than a character that excuses themselves by blaming others, as in the previous example, you could have one that excuses others by blaming circumstances, who never holds anyone responsible for their mistakes or even their deliberate bad actions. It's a trait that looks very different, but it's just a different face of the same sort of rationalizing thinking.

    ChickenFreak
     
  22. Smoke
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    Smoke Contributing Member

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    My anti-sue is pretty special. She has my physical qualities as far as usefulness in a fight. Her pajamas and cosplay costume were my pajamas and something I actually wore for halloween. She's what I would be minus the self-awareness that she should give up. She was actually deluded enough to think that a video game character would be willing to leave his own reality to be her true wuv. (And that's where the funny bit comes in, the video game character spends a good deal of time calling her a stupid cow and otherwise berating her.)

    Actually, the doll-stitcher Sue was under the same delusion and it worked, except that I was writing a platonic friendship until I thought someone was calling for romance. (She was slaving his mind so subtly that not even I realized it, nor my readers.)


    I'm actually trying to write my latest character as an interesting OC that has one or two irredeemable Sue traits. One of my guidelines is to think about what I wouldn't do, and then make a judgment call on how stupid it would be. Of course, if she's not picking up the idiot ball when I would, I also have to make a decision about that.
     
  23. Allegro Van Kiddo
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    Allegro Van Kiddo Contributing Member

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    This is it right here.

    Another example:

    Someone gives both of us a book to assemble about the "lifecycle of the frog" and we have all the facts and the book has to be about the facts.

    Do you think that the two of us would produce the exact same book in the same order? I say "no" because we would find different things important and so our personal bias would cause us to assemble the facts in different ways. Thus, our bias affects how we view things that are supposed to be fact.

    That has to be greatly magnified when creating the fake personality of a character.
     

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