Sunday, May 3, 2015

You vs. Your Main Character

  Writers put pieces of themselves and people they know in their characters. They can't help it. Sometimes that's the scariest factor in giving something to a friend for a read. Will they see more or less of what you put in there? Will they wonder if you really think of yourself that way? What if your main character is just enough like you your friends assume you are representing yourself, and then shake their heads when there's a divergence? What about when your spouse reads about the love interest and finds someone completely unlike themselves? Will their feelings be hurt?

  My main character looks a lot like me, and there's a simple reason for that: I know what it's like to be a scrawny, slightly freckled, flat chested (but heavy-hipped) bookish girl who hates onions and likes to punch things to blow off steam. It makes a lot of things easier to imagine and articulate- I know how clothes fit on that body and how hard it is to do anything with fine hair- but there the similarities end. She is not me.

   It's important to create main characters who differ from you in several significant ways, and looks don't count. I'm talking personality. For one thing it gives them permission to act in ways you would not. My main character is so much kinder than I am, for example. She has a gift for sarcasm, yes, but she uses it differently than I do. She's braver than I am and follows her heart rather than her head in many cases. She feels where I think. She acts where I hold back. And most importantly, she is not a manifestation of what I wish I was.

  The biggest danger, I think, in making yourself the main character is you tend to create situations you've never experienced just to show the world how you would handle it. Funny thing is, most of the time you are wrong about that. You're not that good, and everyone around you won't react in awe and adulation. It doesn't take long for your MC to be come a MarySue/GaryStu. I'm looking at you, Richard Rahl.

  Making a character after someone you know is equally dangerous, especially if they are a friend who will read it someday. I'm assuming here if you create a character after someone you hate in life, you don't give a damn what they think. When it comes to friends, though, you may mean something in a complimentary way, but they may not perceive it as such. Your portrayal may be spot on, and that might be worse unless you've worked it out with them beforehand. It's like the Magic Mirror Gate from The Neverending Story: confronted with their true selves, most men run away screaming.

  How do you avoid hurting feelings when wanting to pay tribute to a friend, especially if they have been so helpful in your writing? First off, ask them. Some people would delight in being a bad guy or a passing character begging for bread in the town square. They may make that decision easy for you. Second, stick to more minor characters. Then you don't have to bring them out constantly and develop them. Third, make them completely different from your friend. Swap genders if you can, and/or make them the opposite in looks and personality. That way they never have to look for themselves in any character. It could be safe, though, to make someone look like a friend if it's a hit-and-run character we never see again.

  My MC's love interest looks nothing like my husband because I don't want anyone looking for similarities. (Ironically, in personality, I am more like the love interest than the main character.) Perhaps this is more of a risk with female characters than male ones, but when it comes to those you have an intimate physical relationship with, watch out for making them think you wish they were more like your love interest. Here it might be a good idea to develop said character with their input, if only so they can see the process.

  But back to yourself in your characters. If you are a beginning writer especially, so many things can be easier if you write from a point of view similar to your own. I have no problem putting a bit of yourself in your hero, but draw the line. Your MC can look a lot like you, but make one significant detail different. In a slightly symbolic move, my heroine's eyes are gray, not blue like mine, to remind me (lest I forget) that she is not me. She sees the world differently than I do.

  Besides, no one wants to read about me. I'm boring.

No comments:

Post a Comment