Monday, August 7, 2017

Getting Over Ourselves

I recently read an article in “The Writer” magazine (July 2017) about creating characters “that are not secretly you.” It was one of those revelations that came to me a little late, but resonated nonetheless. Here’s my take on it.

When we are young—I’m talking babies and toddlers and young children—oh yes, and teenagers—the world revolves around us. Or, at least, we think it does. We are naturally selfish and needy, and expect others to put us first and fulfill our needs.

Most of us outgrow this eventually. Or do we?

What was the main character like in your first novel or short story? Did he or she at all resemble you? Good chance your answer is yes. We often create characters that think like us, respond like us, even look like us. Through them, we are able to work through our thoughts, feelings, struggles, dreams and hopes. Non-writers may not realize how much of our hearts and souls feed into our characters.

But, as Susan Perabo suggests in her article in “The Writer,” it’s time we got over ourselves and started creating other kinds of people, freshly imagined folks who are nothing at all like us.

This is what happened when I started writing the first draft of my current WIP: I had invented a young woman passionate to know who she was, but after a couple of scenes, I was looking into a mirror of sorts. Diana was a “fraidy cat.” She didn’t like challenge or risk or danger. She was na├»ve and passive, and, frankly, boring. I’m not putting myself down; I’m being honest. But I didn’t want Diana to be that way. Too easy. Too much like some of the characters I’ve written in the past.

So, what to do? I rewrote the first scenes (I know, I know. Never rewrite until you have the first draft done. It's not the first rule of writing I've broken.) and for my every inclination to make Diana respond like me, her creator, I stopped, listened, and allowed her to be herself. And do you know what I discovered? She is nothing like me. She’s rebellious. She adores the limelight. She is sometimes disrespectful. I’m not sure I even like her very much. But she’s interesting. I want to know why she does these things, what she really wants, how she is going to become her own worst enemy as the story unfolds.

Two specific takeaways for me from the article:
1) Often we don’t realize what we’re doing until someone points it out (thanks, Susan Perabo)
2) It’s helpful and wise to consider the truth of the matter and make the necessary changes

So, let’s get over ourselves and bring into being brand new, fascinating fictional characters that inspire and spark our stories.



  1. Great post. I often see reviews complaining about "Mary Sue" (or Marty Stu) characters, which is basically this - a super perfect character, often perceived to be based on the author or some kind of authorial wish fulfillment. Apart from anything, it takes the reader out of the story as we wonder if this is the character speaking, or the author.

    Yes, we have to be brave and allow our characters to become the people they are meant to be. It's a lot like our children - we can try and mould them into miniature versions of ourselves, but they are their own people and will act accordingly.

  2. Sorry to miss your comment, Iola. Yes, the example of trying to shape our children into our mould is a good analogy. Can't be done.