You’re In All Your Characters

I have heard, on more than one occasion, that the writer imbues some aspect of themselves into every character they create. Considering this is likely said by a multitude of sources, as opposed to some ur-writer who came up with the idea, one could say this is obvious. If someone knows the original quoter of this, I’d love to know.

But I feel it worth repeating. Conversely, one ought not judge the artist by the art, as they say (though to this day you’ll have a hard time convincing me of that regarding Orson Scott Card, at least his earlier opinions). When it really comes down to it, if someone has an issue with something that happens in your writing – to the point of them judging you as a writer, and, more to the point, actually going out of their way to inform you of their opinion – that means you’ve either succeeded tremendously or failed miserably.

To clarify: Success as in creating characters or plot situations that invest the readers so very much that they’re astounded such things could happen or be described. Failure in that the writer apparently did not try very hard to hide their own agenda – and one’s agenda is always controversial, so it comes off as preachy.

At any rate, I believe that it is worthwhile to exercise discretion when “judging” the creatives of society. This is a hard thing for people to argue, yet there will always be exceptions (I mean heck, even I have a few), and I also believe we’ve all heard this before. That’s why the focus of this post is not to leap upon the proverbial soap box and shout through a cone made up of digital html, but rather to encourage everyone to accept that, in some small way, every character one writes is in part the writer his/herself. And then move on.

That being said, I’m not going to touch the whole Mary Sue concept. The blog would quickly deteriorate into a bubbling mass of spiny, toothy vehemence if we were to address that.

More often than not, I think writers hesitate to write about heinous murderers or the thought process of a rapist for fear of readers pointing at the writer and saying “And how would you know so much about this?” The real question is whether or not fear of such a repercussion will stop you from trying. It hasn’t stopped Stephen King, I’ll tell you that much.

But it need not concern merely the negatives of character traits, certainly not. We can apply this to the positives as well, and to say nothing of the immaturities, the dreams, the doubts, the fears and the hopes.

I demonstrate now.

Recently, while driving – as this is my ideal time of creative thinking – a line of dialogue struck me. I knew, the moment I formed the words in my mind, that the line would add a new level of depth to an otherwise not-so-deep character of mine. With but a small exchange, and perhaps a few hints leading up to that point, the character (who up to this point is seen as a hardened soldier) shows hesitation of making physical contact with anyone. Even (or especially) with a person with whom there is mutual, clear attraction.

This idea is something I’ve seen in another story, Berserk by Kentaro Miura. It is not hard to imagine rape victims hesitant to be intimate, or people who’ve been betrayed to trust another person again, or for someone whose had something valuable stolen to expect others to give anything without a catch. We see this all the time in stories. The difference is that writing from experience, or even from the close experience of others we know (if you must), breathes life into our characters, for we are all in our characters.

After all, as Stephen King once said, it’s people who make stories, not the circumstances they find themselves in.

Happy writing, dear writers! Today’s track comes from a painfully neglected source, Cirque du Soleil, and was brought to my attention by an enthusiast.

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