Are You in Your Characters?

characters and writers woman-2531571_courtesy of pixabayIt’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.eye-1173863_640

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?

Author: Yvonne Hertzberger

Yvonne Hertzberger is a native of the Netherlands who immigrated to Canada in 1950. She is an alumna of The University of Waterloo, with degrees in psychology and Sociology. Her Fantasy trilogy, ‘Earth’s Pendulum’ has been well received. Learn more about Yvonne at her blog and her Amazon author page.

7 thoughts on “Are You in Your Characters?”

  1. Excellent post, Yvonne. I think some of us bleeds thru to all our characters in some ways. I notice it the most when my MCs start spouting my own truths. The villains are a little tougher–they might just have some of our baser characteristics taken to the nth degree. Or not. It is fun to think about, tho. Which I will be doing now. A lot. Thanks for the ear worm!

  2. Hello, Yvonne:
    You’ve answered your question. I think all writers do it and have done since Adam and Eve chatted with the serpent at the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
    A few months ago I met up with Mike, my best friend of the 1960s.
    We’re the same age. Because of this thing called ‘Life’ we’ve altered a bit yet there are aspects of character and personality that we still see in one another in our 70th year.
    We had lost touch over the decades.
    I gave him with a copy of my novel The Goal Kicker. It was centred in our era – 1968 – and the district in New Zealand where we grew up.
    A few weeks later he rang me up. ‘It was like reading your autobiography.’
    ‘Everything about Richard [the eponymous goalkicker] is you. Your Mum is his grandmother [who brings him up]. Your Dad is his great-uncle.’
    I tried to deny that the portrait was me, of course. But I had to recognise that a cliché’d grain of truth resided there.
    I’ve written here before about how my main male characters are not the dominating, take-charge men that literature and movies tell us are so appealing to girls and women.
    They’re not that because I’m not that and I don’t know how to portray men like that except, perhaps, mockingly.
    My guys tend to be diffident, reticent – the Laconic Moronic Kiwi Bloke, maybe – unsure and certainly unable to cope with the complexities of the female signalling system.
    Yet they are guys who do have a sense of responsibility buried somewhere inside them; perhaps they half-hope that that’s where it will stay and they dread that it might be called on.
    Yet when the situation arises they look around, see there’s no-one else stepping up, and so they do and make the best of things.
    Often they confound others. Just as often they confound themselves. People are changed.
    Those are people I can write about most convincingly.
    We’re all ‘guilty as charged’.
    – Paul Corrigan

    1. Thanks Paul. I’m glad that you found a way to turn what you knowand live into entertainment and possibly education for others. It sounds like your “men” are like my beta heroes. They’re not your typical macho superstars but rather more real, thinking, and IMHO, evolved men. Keep up that good work.

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