Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Not "Whodunnit?" but "Whoizit?"

Somewhere, I'm sure, someone has compiled a list of mandatory questions to ask a writer. And all of us, I'm equally sure, have been compelled to answer them at one time or another.

“When did you start writing?”

“How long did it take you to write your book?”

“Where do you get your ideas?”

But this past weekend, I was living every fledgling writer's dream... I was hosting a launch party for my debut mystery novel, “End of the Road”. In between thanking my guests for their support, I was fielding many questions in a similar vein. And then it happened—I was asked a question that I had never been asked before.

“Which character is you?”

That gave me pause. Up until then, I had my stock answers to their stock questions all ready to be trotted out. But this one made me stop and think.

Of course, a writer creates their characters, but not, as some might think, out of thin air. At some time, the writer has met someone who sparks an idea for a character (work in retail long enough, I guarantee you'll have a never-ending treasure trove of potential murder victims.) But the reality, of course, lies in that question.

Which character is the writer?

Many people seem to think that the writer automatically identifies with the hero/heroine of the story, especially if the character is good-looking, brave, resourceful, and manages to thwart the villain with near-superhuman martial arts skills while demonstrating a rapier wit and a flair for appreciating fine wines. Perhaps it's true that the writer creates a larger-than-life hero or heroine, a character everyone would like to be, but very rarely do such characters mirror the actual flesh-and-blood person who created them.
If you want to find the writer in any of his or her characters, look for the flaws.

That's where the fear of the dark, of spiders, of failure, of love and commitment, of success, all those things that make the characters REAL is where you will find the author. It's only in the anonymity of writing fictional characters that a writer has the freedom to admit their own flaws and find a way to overcome them (or avoid them!) while creating characters with whom the majority of readers can identify. It's where you'll find me. But I didn't exactly say that in answer to the question.

What I did say was, “There's a little of me in ALL the characters.”


Sharon Arthur Moore said...

This is such a great post--I soooo recognize the questions! LOL

Shalanna said...

Readers DO think that the heroines are supposed to be US, don't they? At least sometimes. Well, writing is like flashing anyway: people see right into your soul when they read your work. So we can't worry about it. (LOL)

I like it when an interview question is not "The Same Ten Questions We Ask Everyone." My interview that's up today at the Dames of Dialogue (no link! Not going to click you away from this thread right now!) has questions that differ and are deeper. Pretty cool.

But yes, if you DO read my interview, you'll see that I agree. A bit of us is in each character. We can't help that. We are not only the director of this play but also ALL the actors and must create all the characters. Mine seem to pop into being full-formed like Athena from the head of Zeus, but I don't know everything about them until I've been writing for a bit. It's part of what keeps me going: what is this character's secret? What is her mission in life? What is her true agenda as opposed to the veneer that she presents to the world? ("I work for this charity because I care so much for the kids" versus "This makes me look like a good person and I am desperate to be considered worthy")

Characters (I believe) proceed out of the Jungian archetypes and are filtered through the Girls in the Basement/Attic, so we don't want to take total credit for making them, but still, we are their mamas/daddies. And we have to throw mean things at them to have conflict in the books. Dilemma!

Christy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Christy said...

Very interesting post! I enjoyed it! I can't wait to read your book Amy!!!

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

These are exactly what people say. Funny.

Beryl Reichenberg said...

I think we all put a bit of ourselves in our characters, either knowingly or unknowingly. Most of my characters for my children's stories are animal substitutes for children or adults. I always find myself in these characters one way or another. Beryl