Friday, November 13, 2009

It's Not You, It's Me

In a sort of continuation of Davin's post about sincerity and Michelle's post about honesty, I wanted to do a poll today.

(Poll closed, results below:)

Q: In your current novel, is the protagonist:

1. Someone unlike you or anyone you know? 41.5%

2. A stand-in for you, or an idealized version of you? 36.6%

3. A stand-in for someone you know, or an idealized version of them? 19.5%

4. A version of someone else's protagonist because you could write that story better than they did? 2.4%

In my last book, my protagonist was a minor character from Shakespeare's "Hamlet" that I expanded and fleshed out a lot and he's nothing like me except, of course, that he reads a lot and is obsessed by fine food. Otherwise he's a complete stranger. In my current book (titled "Cocke & Bull"), the protagonist is a gay Irish highwayman in colonial Maryland. Again, not so much me though we share Irish Catholicism but I've never killed anyone, at least.

If your protagonist is essentially you, why is that? If not, why is that? Discuss.


  1. My protag is a little bit of me. She's me if I had all the time in the world to think of the perfect response. But, she's not all me. I think she is a bit more judgemental and less accepting of others than I am.

    I'm too boring to be a complete character in a novel, I guess. Gotta mix it up some ;)

  2. You know you could have asked me to help you with the poll thing. ;)

    Oh well, this works, too!

    In your writing, is your protagonist generally:

    1. A stand-in for you, or an idealized version of you?
    2. A stand-in for someone you know, or an idealized version of them?
    3. Someone unlike you or anyone you know?
    4. A version of someone else's protagonist because you could write that story better than they did?

    I must answer #3. Nick in Monarch is a nothing like me, although he does have traits that I can relate to. Not sure if that counts. Lilian is kind of like me, but not really. Devan is the closest to me, but really far removed generally speaking. I should send you one of my stories that IS me since it's creative non fiction from my POV. It's one of the hardest things I've ever had to write.

    Great post today!

  3. Michelle: If you were in the mood and had the time to make this into an actual poll, could you? Would you? I'd be forever in your debt.

    I wondered how much of you is in Nick. You kick ass and pack heat, right?

    Tess: I have thoughts about the "boring" thing that I'll get to later.

  4. My protag in my current WIP is me, through and through.

    I think it's cathartic, a bit empowering, and all the same, absolutely terrifying to write myself as a character.

  5. Of course I kick ass and pack heat, are you kidding? I mean, not really, but sometimes I wish I did. I'd rather not be a 50 year old almost-retired CIA officer, though, who has major issues with the women in his life. Still, he has a pretty dang cool job. :)

    I will get up a poll for you.

  6. My protag is not like me at all, but she might possibly be like someone I read about.

  7. I have to vote #3
    I’m writing first person as a 32-year-old male. My protagonist is a shipwright and single, with loads of family responsibilities. I guess the only thing we really share in common is that we both write. He’s a closet novelist who writes for a boatbuilding magazine. I’m also a novelist wannabe. I didn’t set out to write the novel in 1st person as a man, but the nature of the story bent that way. Oddly, now it’s hard for me to think of writing in 1st person as a woman.

  8. It depends on the work, but often my MC's are hashing out my own personal issues, or exploring the consequences of things I could (or should) never do. That said, my current work is written from the perspective of a confused, college-aged woman, so not much of me in that.

    I write myself into everything, though, so there's a little bit of me in almost every character.

  9. My protagonists for my 3 WIP are all male. I'm going with highly idealized versions of myself (although the ideals may not be positive enhancements to character). I use my experience to create situations for them, but their reactions to those situations are the product of my imagination, and are quite typically the opposite of what I would do or think.

  10. Annnd apparently the poll program I used puts a nice tan color behind things on our blog page (like down at the bottom), so on Monday the poll will close and Scott can delete it and post the results in the post. I should have used Blogger's poll!

  11. I think that my protagonists are a bit all over the map in terms of what they do. For instance, in my last book, my protagonist was the chief curator for a fine arts museum, while I am an experimental scientist by profession.

    I wish the poll had a bit more categories. My protagonists, whoever they are, wrestle with issues that I wrestle with. The other characters also wrestle with issues that I wrestle with. The book I'm working on right now has a prostitute as a main character. While I have never been a prostitute, I believe I have personally experienced events that provide me a tremendous amount of insight into the stat of mind that it entails.

    While my protagonist or other characters are not necessarily "stand-ins" for me, they do represent conflicting aspects of my psyche.

    I suppose one thing I haven't done is base characters on people I know or have known.

  12. One other thing. Even though I am a woman, I always feel most comfortable writing from a first-person male POV. Go figure.

  13. Interesting poll. Hmmm, and hard to answer. I think my MC in my WIP isn't anything like me, though he has pieces of me in him. Make sense? How he can't be anything like me, but have fragments of me in him?

    And the one I finished that I'm querying(if I ever get the nerve) the two girls actually are what I wish had been when I was their age.

    So I answered #1, but it could've very easily been #3.

  14. This is an interesting subject that seems to keep showing up in multiple places. One of the blogs I follow also discussed it today and I found her ideas very interesting and useful.

  15. PS... I wonder if it's possible to write a story using yourself as a character and not, in some small way, idealize them into something you WISH you were or THINK you are or could be or should be or will be someday.

  16. A friend of mine read the first few chapters of Margarita Nights and emailed me this question: how much of you is in Jared (one of the MC)?

    My response: there's a little bit of me in all of the characters. In some characters, it is an idealized version of me. In other characters, it is in the choices they made, that I didn't make.

    No matter how hard I try, something of who I am shows up in the characters I create. Perhaps it's some flaw in my hard wiring.

    Also, some of the characters in MN are based on people I know. Loosely based on people I know. I don't know the ins/outs of their emotional states which led them to do this, that, or the other. I can only guess at that . . . which is what I did.

    Oh, and I agree with Tess - I'm too boring to be a complete character. : )

  17. I do both. I have a couple characters that are versions of myself..a little exaggerated though :) Then I have other is very sassy and does and says what she wants. Sooooooooo not like me at all and she was so much fun to write!!!! My alter ego maybe???

  18. There's a bit of me in every character I write -- and in some I emphasize personality traits that I try to minimize in my daily life. Others are based loosely off people I know.

    It all depends on what works for the character and the story though. If I have to consider something completely out of left field, then I'm OK with that.

  19. My characters may wrestle with some of the same issues I have/do, but they aren't at all like me, and often don't respond as I would. Most of the time, they aren't even people I'd be friends with if they were "real", because they often end up having such opposing views and perspectives from my own.

    I think that's why I find their lives so interesting and fun to write though - because they are living far more exciting, passionate lives than I probably ever would. :-)

  20. I think all of my characters have a little bit of me in them. But, my protag has never been completely me or anyone I know. I like to make up people.

  21. I've often tried to write about myself because I feel like I have dramatic, complicated stories to share, but I find that whenever I sit down at my typewriter to get this stuff out, I get bored. I think it's because I feel like I've overthought my own issues far too many times already. Instead, I tend to write about other people I know because they intrigue me and I want to feel like I understand them. Those are the stories that I can usually stick with. I think I've written some nice autobiographical snippets, but none of them really feel complete.

  22. I think all my protagonists are people I might have been if I were in their circumstances.

  23. Actually, the idea of writing about an idealized version of myself got me thinking that I'm not actually sure what an idealized version of myself would be. Aside from being a better dancer and a published author, my goals are so ephemeral and transitional, I'm not even sure what they are. I think it's because I don't really know who I am. So Erin's post, where she asks how one could write about oneself and not idealize yourself struck me as very strange. She asks how can you NOT idealize yourself. I say, I'm not sure I can. As I project myself into my stories, I am always flawed.

  24. Lately I tend to write protagonists that are very much unlike me and I feel it's been a long time coming. I don't mind using some of my own experiences in my work but utilizing my own reactions and thoughts and views on the world tends to make me lazier in my writing than I care to be. Tends to give my stories less dimension than I want them to have.

    In the past, I've found myself reading books where I am confused by characters. Or outright astounded by them. And I say to myself, "I never would have reacted that way in that situation!" Yet I find those characters some of the most interesting I've come across and it definitely pumps up the tension in the necessary spots.

    So...I'm experimenting with protagonists that, at the very least, have a much more opinionated view of the world and aren't afraid to express it. It's kind of addicting.

    Great post!

  25. My protag does all sorts of things that I would never do. I think that's the way of most of the characters I write: the one's I like aren't much like me.

  26. Because I'm boring, lol. And because I've never thought about modeling a character after myself. Wow, that would be weird.

  27. I think my characters have a little bit of me in them, but not much.

  28. All of my characters have a little bit of me in them. Even the vile ones! Because to write vile, you have to know vile, right? NOT that I am vile... you know.

  29. My protagonist is a combination of people I have known or worked with in my career, and felt compelled to write about. Some of her responses mirrors my own, but her story is not mine. Or anyone I know.

    She, and her supporting characters, are an amalgamum (I know, I probably spelled it wrong) of a culture I've worked with that crosses many economic lines. Basic themes of personalities and situations.

    I am the next Jodi Piccoult wannabe!


  30. My protag is more like someone I know but not exactly. She's not anyone specific really, but she has certain characteristics of that person. Waffle, waffle. Okay, fine, idealized. Whatever. Why do I feel the need to figure this out? Thanks a lot, Scott.

  31. In one form or another, all of my characters are me. I’m the only person whose psyche I really know. Even when I try to write a not-me character, they are motivated only by things I can imagine.

    Having said that, I actually do try to write the MC as some aspect of myself for the emotional investment. I write about things I want to happen in my world for a demographic like myself. My first book was about assisting Women’s Liberation in India. My second book is about jumping off the youth and beauty rollercoaster (I’m getting old). The emotional impact these topics have for me fuels the need to write and keeps me going through the slog parts.


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