Saturday, February 28, 2015

Basing the Protagonist on Yourself: The Pros and Cons

Basing characters off of ourselves. This happens fairly often sometimes intentionally and sometimes not. It is natural for our ideals to bleed through the paper or screen into the minds of our characters, but many times a writer will put all of their ideals and even parts of our pasts into one.

Many highly successful authors did this for their stories such as Stephen Chbosky in the Perks of Being a Wallflower, Laura Ingalls Wilder in Little House on the Prairie, and Lucy Maud Montgomery in Anne of Green Gables. All three gave the protagonists a good deal of their actual beliefs and past experiences such Montgomery's childhood on Prince Edward Island and "pieces of real people in [Chbosky's] life" in the Perks of Being A Wall Flower.

That being said I've seen this work in a negative way in unpublished pieces with inexperienced writers. I have had several encounters where people have gotten snappy with me when I replied to the critique they asked for and I said something politely negative about the character that not-of-my-knowledge was themselves. Then they inform me the character is them as if that is an excuse for their rude behavior and their writing faux pas. That may be the reason, but that behavior is not a healthy habit.

Thus I have witnessed a lot of pros and cons for writing yourself or a character very close to yourself as the protagonist. Perhaps you should take these into consideration, before trying it yourself.

Pro #1: Character Development - Since the character is yourself or extremely close, character development is far easier. You probably know yourself fairly well, so writing a character like you is pretty easy. You get to write yourself having a grand adventure or about something deeply personal in your life to share with others.

Con #1: Laziness in Craft - The problem is possibly the reason you are writing a character so close to yourself could mean that you are doing it because you don't want to work on developing a unique person. It's hard to create another mind outside of your own.

Or because it is you and your life, you decide to throw essential writing craft rules out the window. Because this about you, you decide to dump every detail of your life, or every thought that comes to your head usually, or add that special memory of yours that really isn't necessary and bogs down the story. This may sound "more realistic" to you, but it's just lazy writing.

Pro #2: Self Discovery - While writing this story, you may discover things about yourself you didn't know like a deep fear or remember a happy memory or a bad habit of yours. Doing this may be emotionally cleansing for you and/or bring a special kind of happiness. Writing this out could help you look at the whole picture of a bad situation you are in or you've been in. It could help you get a secret out on paper, so you can feel better about it. This could be healing for you to have your fictional self solve problems perhaps in real life you couldn't.

Con #2: Bias - But one-sided point of view can be the result. You can push your own views on the reader too hard, and it can be off-putting. Or somehow all the characters tend to only see from your point of view and have no individuality. Everyone can't be like you even in the fictional world.

... everyone can't be like you?
Pro #3: Intimacy - When you write something you experienced yourself, there is a level of closeness to the scene that someone who hasn't felt that can't quite grasp. Some beautiful prose can come from scenes like this and it is a very special thing in stories. It is probably the greatest weapon when one writes experiences one has had personally. You can show an intimate, personal connection, making the scene more vivid as opposed to someone else writing it who hasn't actually had done that.

Con #3: Oversensitiveness - The biggest issue I have seen with writing a character based off of one's self is that often the writer cannot think of the character objectively, meaning that if anyone says the slightest thing negative about the character, they take it as a personal attack. Critique is harder for someone who is writing from their own self and life, because now it's even more personal. You may not want to do certain things to the character, because it feels like they're being done to you, but the story needs the thing to happen to work.

Over-sensitivity that can result in this reaction.
The key thing about writing from yourself and your life is you have to treat the character, no matter how much they are like you, like any other character: with a dash of objectivity. You have to be able to divide yourself from the character and recognize what is best for the story as a whole. If the story is not well-written, no one or perhaps only a select few will be able to enjoy your personal story, and since this is so close to you, you want the best for it.

This is tough to do with a character that isn't a thing like you, let alone one that is exactly like you. Writing so personally can either work beautifully or crash and burn horribly.

Have you have written a character based off of yourself? Have you encountered any of these problems? Any questions?

You may also like:
Writing Lessons from Anime: Characters
How to Write a 3D Villain Part 1: How Did a Factor Cause Your Villain to Become a Villain?
So Your Character is Adopted ...
The Psychology of Writing: Villain Motivation and the CANE Model: A Guest Post by Casey Lynn Covel
Five Tips on Writing A Good Main Character

If you liked this post, come back every Saturday for more writing advice, character interviews, book reviews and more! On Sundays I have Soundtrack Sundays where I post a new score piece, Tuesdays are Tea Tuesdays with tea reviews, Wednesdays I have Wonderful Word Wednesdays where I post a new vocabulary word, and Fridays are Fan Fridays where I post tags and other goodies. To help support my dream to be an author follow this blog, like me on Facebook, watch me on deviantART, and follow me on Pinterest and Twitter. If you want to know more about my books check out them out here. Thank you! :)

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