It’s a question every author of fiction is familiar with in one form or another. “Is the main character really you?” “Which character is most like you?” Of course the answers always vary, but they also have similarities that we often overlook.
We are told to “write what we know,” and who do we know best but ourselves? Seems obvious doesn’t it? Not so fast. There are times when the obvious is way off base. And knowing ourselves is, in my opinion, one of those beliefs we take for granted that may not be true. Sometimes others may know us better than we know ourselves.
So, when I am asked that question, my first reaction is to deny that my characters are reflections of myself, or demonstrate aspects of my own personality. It isn’t until someone who knows me well reads what I have written and declares that Marja is a lot like me.
So let’s look at Marja. Marja is one of four principle characters in my Earth’s Pendulum series. She is intelligent, strong, decisive, intuitive, and takes charge when needed. She is a leader. Not like me at all, I thought. After that comment, however, I examined her more closely. I am, I think, intelligent, intuitive, and … wait a minute… strong? a leader? … ummm.
I do think of myself as strong in some areas, I do see myself as intuitive, but do I have leadership qualities? Am I a take-charge kind of person when things get difficult? I had to think about that – a lot. How was I able to create Marja with those obvious traits? I discovered that I do have those qualities – but in different ways. I am very hands-on with what needs to be done – so much so that I don’t delegate nearly as much as I could. I like to be in control. But my control tends to be of myself. I am, mostly, a solitary worker. Just leave me alone and I’ll get the job done. The big difference is that I am not one who can motivate others, or lead on a project.
Ah, but wait. I wish I could. In my dreams I can see myself leading, and others respecting and following me. And, in developing Marja, I allowed that dream to be fulfilled. I explored what that would be like, how it would manifest in action and in relationships. And I found I liked Marja a lot. She became the woman I wish I were. And it felt great.
I took a new look at the other three principle characters in my series. Brensa, Marja’s maid and best friend, embodied my insecurities, and the constant struggle to find the strength that Marja has in spades. She does, but it is never easy for her, just as it is never easy for me. Her insecurities never disappear.
Gaelen is Marja’s lord and husband – young, inexperienced but noble, fair-minded, and a loving husband who asks for and respects Marja’s opinions. How is Gaelen like me? Perhaps less so than the women. Yet he is respectful, open-minded, just and represents what I look for in a good man. And I like to think I am also open-minded, fair, and respectful. This is beginning to look more and more like I am guilty of putting myself into my characters.
Then there’s Klast, my hero, my favourite character in all my books so far. He suffers unthinkable abuse as a child. It makes him a loner in the extreme. But he finds his place as Gaelen’s most loyal friend, spy, and, much as he loathes it, his lord’s assassin when no other option will do. Not me at all, right? Does he represent me in any way?
Oh, yes. It doesn’t matter that he is male – and seems as macho as can be. His inner struggle to come to terms both with the abuse he suffered and the jobs he must sometimes undertake to fulfill his duty is one I identify deeply with. And the traits that are hidden within him – extreme loyalty, compassion for those in pain or treated unjustly, his capacity for deep love in spite of not believing he had it, his deep introspectiveness. On examination, I have to admit that he is very much like me indeed. He is the embodiment of what it takes to overcome extreme adversity and still remain human in all the best ways.
Of course there are many other characters in my writing, some of them very nasty villains, but they are not like me at all. Or are they?
So where does this leave me with the original question, “Am I in my characters?” While I was mostly unaware of it while I was writing, I now see that all of the most important characters that appear in my writing embody traits that I have or wish I had. I can deny it no longer. Guilty as charged.
How about you?