Sunday, May 9, 2010

I Am Not My Characters

I have come across a number of professional writers who claim their characters are either their imaginary friends, their children, or actually them.

This idea that a writer's characters are them, or their friends, or their children is one that vaguely disturbs me because I don't see it as healthy. If somebody doesn't like a writer's characters, then, on some level, it would mean they don't like the writer. Or at least parts of them. How can anybody with even the best self-esteem deal with negative reviews and rejections when they're rejections of YOU?

For any artist, there needs to be some level of disconnect between them and their work if they want to last for any length of time with their sanity intact. How can you add the necessary amount of danger and terror by killing/maiming characters if they're your friends/children?

My characters are not my friends, my children nor are they me. They are my characters. They are simply ideas I've thought up and given written form to. Whatever part of me might find its way into them is so minute and removed from me that it makes no difference.

I'm not going to spare them from pain, death, or torture. When somebody says something negative about them, I don't take it as a slam against me. A slam against my writing ability maybe, but not me as a person.


  1. Agreed. Though the only way I'd see my characters as my children is if someone asked me if I crushed on one of my guys. I'd be totally grossed out because I just can't do that. That's why I don't get the whole Stephanie Meyer style 'daydream about being with your own creation' type of writing because it's just so squicky.

    Definitely distance is needed. Otherwise, as you said, you'll never be able to do what needs to be done to them.

  2. Actually, I understand why a writer would say that a fictional character is a part of who they are. When writers see themselves as creating a piece of art, it's just like a painter creating a painting: a piece of themselves are imbued in the artwork. If anything writers shouldn't just identify with the character, but with the story as a whole: A painter wouldn't identify herself with one small portion of the painting that she creates. A writer should identify with every single word he has committed to paper.

  3. Hi FAO and welcome to the blog!

    I do think what you're saying is correct. Nothing can be created in a vacuum. Everything we do from writing to painting to changing a tire is imbued with a part of ourselves.

    If you give a dozen different writers the same plot, characters, and setting you're going to get a dozen different stories. Each one will put their own spin on things based on their experiences, tastes, and vision.

    What I was addressing was more the idea of writers purposefully putting themselves into their work. When a writer ties themselves so closely to their work, a person who says negative things about the work is automatically assumed to be saying negative things about the author.

    Unfortunately, I've come across this a number of times with famous authors.

  4. Hi Ana,

    Thank you for having me. I can see what you mean. I can remember an editor who pointed out that writers sometimes do put themselves in a story especially the very first one they write, but she meant it as a warning to new writers: her anecdote illustrated how one of her newer writers wanted to write a memoir about her relationship with her dad. The editor was dubious at best because she (the editor) knew that the writer's first novel was based on her personal experiences with her dad.

    The caveat was that the writer's relationship with her father was incestuous, and the editor's predictions to the writer that her (the writer's) audience wouldn't go for it were dead on.

    I took that to mean that if a writer strongly identifies with her characters, it must be some sort of personal issue that she's working through (or not working through): it's like their way of avoiding reality.

    Then again, some artists (no matter their chosen medium) take critical review & their art way too seriously: It's like they forget that the joy is in the process of creating, and not necessarily how it's perceived.