Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A Little Piece of Me

Who do you know best in your life?  Who's the one person that you get more than anyone else?

The answer, of course, is yourself.  We are the one person who we have true insight into.  We know our hopes, fears, thoughts, dreams, and quirks better than we do others.  That's great because, let's face it, figuring out other people is hard.
(Does this person have a special attachment to butterflies, or is he trying to create a new eyepatch?  Only he knows)
Getting into the head of another person is nearly impossible - if it was easy, there'd be fewer wars and no misunderstandings.  People have whole careers where they get paid to figure other people out, and even then they get it wrong most of the time.

So where am I going with this?  Well, it occurred to me that this applies to most of the characters I write.  Although not exact clones, the main characters of my books, the ones through whose perspectives we get the story, all have large pieces of me in them.  Sure, there are secondary characters who are vastly different, but we rarely get to experience the novel through them, so they don't require as much insight as the main character.

This is where it gets tough.  For example, I originally intended to write the main character of Wrongful Death as a teenage girl.  As I sat at my computer and stared at a blank screen, I realized I had no more insight into the mind of a teenage girl at the age of 37 than I did when I was 15.  I'm sure I could've come up with enough clichés to muddle through, but there'd have been little to no emotional connection to her and readers would have quickly lost interest.  At that point, I decided to make him an exaggerated version of my teenage self because I could write that convincingly.

It got me wondering how many of the rest of us have this issue.  After all, "voice" is one of the strongest elements of telling a story.  I wonder how many putrid novels are the product of a person with no talent, and how many are the product of someone trying to write a main character and perspective he or she didn't understand?

None of our main characters are exactly alike.  Mine have held jobs as a vampire hunter, a scientist, a governor, and a historian.  However, the basic core is me.  I provide the outline for them, and any variance is done from that template.

I've resigned myself to this model.  Although I can and will stretch my own personality to provide variance, it's still my personality that comes through.  Since many say to "write what you know," who do we know better than ourselves?

Anyone out there have similar issues in creating a main character?  Have you managed to overcome them, and if so, how?  Or are your main guys pieces of you in different shapes?

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