Thursday, March 12, 2015

Can we write ourselves into our fiction? by Terry Burns

I don't think we can write credible fiction without it.

We can't write a character without getting inside their skin and imagining what they would do and say in the situation we are putting them in. That means our own experience and history, our own dealings with other people in our life come into play in fleshing them out.

Does that go for the antagonist too? Oh yes, even more so. No hero can be stronger than the villain or situation they are up against. Captain America called in the find out who is stealing someone's newspaper would be a very small story no matter how strong a hero he is.

For a writer this is rather like "going to the dark side." It doesn't mean we have done wicked things we can call upon to write about, but we can imagine them. Sometimes it can be scary how well we can imagine them.

I hear writers all the time talking about "I cried when I wrote that," or "I scared myself with that scene." I've done that. But it's a good thing. How can we expect to raise emotions in someone else that we haven't experienced ourselves? We have to be writing our own emotions into the piece.

So we are drawing on our own experiences, on our own emotions, and we are probably drawing on our own friends, family and acquaintances as well as those we come into contact with to flesh out characters and give them life. I know a number of authors who like to go the the mall or airport or some other public place just to watch people and get ideas for characters.

Putting ourselves into our characters shoes to imagine what they would say or do, the operational word is "ourselves." No matter how much we are trying to be someone else, it's still us. And when we are writing some character doing some really wicked things, you may stop as I have and say to yourself, "Wow, where did that come from?"


Rick Barry said...

I agree 100%. Bits and pieces of my life, my interests, my background, my school studies, etc., constantly weave themselves into my characters. The only thing that bothers me is when a reader assumes that each character in my fiction has a one-to-one correlation in real life: "Tell me the truth. The father in that story... Who is it really?" As if they think I must pick a genuine person and simply change the name to protect myself in court or something. It's fiction, folks, fiction! Please give me some credit for owning an imagination.

Linda Glaz said...

I agree. I think I live vicariously through my antagonists the most. I hate to admit that. But things I would never do, I allow my antags to do.

Terry Burns said...

Good point, Rick. I have named characters for friends and relatives too (first name only) but with the admonition that the character would be nothing like them. A couple of times I have allowed the chance to be in my next book to be auctioned off as a fundraiser at an event. Then the character did have the full name and some characteristics but was in a minor role. And Linda. I see myself more in the white hat role, not so much the real me, but as I wish I was.

Linda Glaz said...

Well, I am usually in both roles, but it's fun to occasionally be the bad guy. hehehe

Karen Campbell Prough said...

I know bits and pieces of me are scatter within the makeup of my characters. And yes, I do cry when I go back and read some parts of my books. :) But it is at the same spot where my readers cry, so I guess that's good! I want my book to touch people.

Terry Burns said...

Here's the question? I think we all see that we have no choice but to write ourselves into our characters. What we are or what we know is all we have to work with? But how do we know if we put too much of ourselves in the characters? Or maybe not enough? I suppose too much and the characters might all start resembling each other. Maybe not enough and they might be too shallow. What do you think?

Dave Arp said...

My daughter read a story I wrote about two brothers. She thought I wrote it about my brother and me. Maybe injecting our inner selves into a fiction work is more innate than we know. And if true, that reveals the true character of the author. (Fifty Shades of Grey, el al.)

Deborah Dee Harper said...

Terry, this is precisely why I love to write humor in my books. I can make fun of myself and the goofy things I do (have done, and will probably always do), and this gives me a creative outlet for all that craziness. I don't think we can help putting some of ourselves into a book, anymore than it's possible for a mother NOT to put some of herself into her baby. After all, writing a book is a lot like delivering a baby. Thanks for a great post.


Diana Flegal said...

I am always surprised when an author that has written so vividly about some type of painful experience- did not personally experience it themselves. Secretly, I think they are lying. And that is very good writing.