Friday, October 7, 2011

Your Greatest Character is YOU.

It's not cheating.  I swear, it isn't.  Writers do it all the time.  Luminaries like John Carpenter have admitted to it.  Stephen King does it (where exactly do you think The Dark Half came from?), and so do so many other writers you've read.  You may not even realize it.  What I'm talking about is the age-old chestnut of basing a character off yourself.  Maybe the character's not really you.  Maybe he's a little taller, or a little quicker on his feet, but, let's face it, it's you.  The character is Superman to your Clark Kent, Batman to your Bruce Wayne, Snake Plisskin to your John Carpenter.  We all do it.  We take a premise and drop an idealized version of ourselves into it and think to ourselves "That's what I'd like to think I would do in that situation."

Here's a couple of examples from my own work:  My first book, An American Haunting, centered on the Rosewood Family, which consisted of Gabriel, wife Trish, and daughters Lizzy and Shannon.  What many didn't know was that Gabriel Rosewood was, in fact, me.  Trish was my wife, Tabby, and Lizzy (Elizabeth) and Shannon are my daughter's middle names.  The cat in the story, Bishop, was even patterned after my daughters great white hunk of useless fluff, Spot.  The characters were written using pieces of our personalities to fill them out.  Granted, as it was my first book, I had a lot to learn.  Years later, though, I used the technique again with the Stanley Cooper Chronicles.

Stanley is short, pudgy, with wild hair and a sarcastic attitude.  He's me.  No, I don't see dead people and I never died, but his reactions are mine, his physical description is mine, and his sense of humor is mine.  As are his faults and insecurities.  I gave him my life so he would come to life on the page.  Obviously, I'm not going about chasing South American rat demons, nor have I ever encountered a walking corpse. I do have a copy of the Necronomicon, but that's another story that has more to do with nerdiness than actual occult writings.  The point is, I created Stanley so I could live vicariously through him, like putting myself in an action movie.  And it serves a few purposes.  First, it allows me to live with the illusion that I could be that smart-ass unlikely hero if the chips were down.  Second, it gives me real insight as to who the character is.  But most important, it allows me to paint the character's emotions from a unique perspective:  Mine.  Because the feelings he has are ones that I've felt, I can mine my own experiences and pull things out that, admittedly, are hard to write about, but are effective.

So if you're reading this, I'm assuming you're a writer.  Otherwise, why on earth would you be reading my blog?  Which brings me to my real question and an assignment of sorts.  Question:  Have you ever based a character off of yourself?  Question the second:  Would you, in your own work, create a series or a story around said character?  Assignment:  Write yourself as a fiction character, and post about him/her in the comments section below.  Should be fun.  Might be interesting.  You also might learn something about yourself that you didn't know.

Until next time, WRITE ON!



  1. I am far too boring of a person to base a character on. Sometimes I use traits I wish I had or have a character make a choice I wish I could make, but all in all? Nope. I live vicariously through the characters who are all the things I can't be.

  2. Um, yeah. I do confess there is part of me in all of my characters. It really shows the unlimited facets of my life.
    While everything that happens may not be what happened to me - the reactions of my characters depict what I might do in that scenario.
    And I love living vicariously as well!

  3. I think you are right to a certain extent. But there is also something we tend to ignore sometimes, whether our greatest character is us or someone we want to be. We ignore the "hero" inside all of us. There's a limited film out now about the "Hero's Journey" based on Joseph Campbell's studies of mythology around the world. What he stressed in his life and teaching was that each of us is on a "hero's journey" which we can choose to accept/embrace, fail miserably at or turn a blind eye. Each day, each moment in our lives is a chance to step up and do something extraordinary...even the simplest thing can be extraordinary...if we recognize it and let it help us grow, let it CHANGE us. That is why our stories are so powerful. In our stories, our protagonist changes...finds meaning in something...tries and fails and then tries and succeeds. The success is not always what the hero thinks 'success' will be in the end, but the observer can recognize it, and we--in reading/watching can be a part of that success. Here's a great little link to impart a bit of that feeling/understanding since I feel I'm not being eloquent in words today (I've still got the wave I rode today on my brain--):

  4. I like this. A lot. In fact, I think this might help with a lot of stuff we've been emailing each other about lately.

  5. SOOOO true, Scott. Or should I say Stanley? ;-D My heroine of Double Crossing, Lily, may be rich but she's an artist too. So is the heroine of my mystery series (SHU thesis, still revising for pub), also rich. Hmmm. I guess I really want to be rich. LOL But they also are strong women who are determined to succeed. Yep. That's me. Great insight here!

  6. In a few ways, yes, I have based characters off myself, but not in the typical way. I never really relate to Ryn (the supposed hero) while I was writing my thesis and I think that's why she came off as emotionless and boring. But I very much saw a lot of my mentality in Jobe (the supposed villian). It's somethig I've been working on by trying to see things more clearly from other people's perspective. And some parts of my stories are parts of me, and I suspect Child of Chaos will be a much richer story because of the characters in it, if I can ever manage to get back from this research trip to a place where I have time to write again. Interesting topic.

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