Saturday, February 12, 2011

How Similar Are You To Your Protagonist?

Léopoldine au livre d'heures by Auguste de Chatillon --1813 - 1881A popular question on panels is “Are you anything at all like your protagonist?”

It’s an interesting question, I think, because each writer feels differently about incorporating themselves into a story.

Reasons I’ve heard why writers write parts of themselves into books:

Some writers view writing as a therapeutic process, working through problems or tragic events through their characters.

It can be easier to get into a character’s head or make the character pop on the page if the character is based on the writer.

The writer’s own background, skill-set, or professional knowledge can be used in the book for a realistic touch. (The protagonist may share the writer’s occupation or hobby.)

It can give the writer an opportunity to change the outcome of a situation they were in, through fiction.

Reasons I’ve heard why writers don’t write themselves into books:

They’re private people.

Their lives don’t seem interesting enough to write about.

Also interesting to me is the way that many writers I’ve listened to will use an absolute on the subject. “No, I’m not like my protagonists,” or “Yes, I’m similar to my protagonist.”

I’ve done the same thing—I usually say, “No, I’m nothing like my protagonists.” Because, honestly, if I wrote myself into a book—no one would read it. This is why I make things up. Besides, I’m not the kind of person who is protagonist material. I don’t make things happen…I like to observe them happening.

But it’s not true that I’m nothing like my protagonists. There are bits of me in them. One protagonist is an insomniac. Two protagonists are impatient. One protagonist is distracted and forgetful. Most of the things that get a small mention are actually my shortcomings.

I’d not thought about it, but when I write my shortcomings into books, I’m poking fun at myself. It’s a good way to blow off tension because my shortcomings tend to stress me out.

So I think, that most writers will use a combination approach. If they are consciously writing themselves, then they leave some material out (at least, I’d imagine they would. I sure wouldn’t be able to let it all hang out there.) If someone thinks they never write themselves into a book…maybe, like me, they don’t even realize they’re doing it.

How much of yourself goes into a book? How much is complete fiction?