Friday, March 1, 2013

Which One is You?

One question writers often get is some variation of, “Which character is you?” Some people seem to think that writing is a matter of taking the people you’re familiar with, changing their names and dropping them into an interesting situation to produce a novel. 

It rarely works that way. We are all products of our experiences, so the quirks and habits of people we know are bound to seep into our characters, as are the quirks and habits of characters we read about. Writing a character based on someone you know is far too limiting and a potential source of trouble you don’t need.

My first novel, Keeping Private Idaho, featured characters in a fictional state tourism agency. Since I knew and worked with many people in the analog of that agency, I carefully avoided giving the two main characters the attributes of the characters who actually held those positions. The real tourism director at the time was an amiable, thoughtful man whom I considered a friend. So, I made the fictional character a strident, blonde female who would walk over anyone to get her way. Even so, the real tourism director was less than thrilled. We’re still friends, but it illustrated for me the dangers of treading anywhere near a real person when developing a character. Ironically, C.J. Box used our mutual friend’s name--with his permission--as the name of a character in one of his books. The character was a nasty guy. Our friend thought it was hilarious. 

So, no, I don’t use people I know as characters in my books. And, no, the lead character is not always me. The fact that I have written two books featuring a 12-year-old girl as the lead character should be a clue. The answer to “Which one is you?” is, none of them. And all of them.

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