Writing–The Characters in Me (and Vice Versa)

Rainbow paperMy mom is a supportive mom and she reads most everything I write. I either give it to her for a beta (because my mom is not shy about her opinions and won’t be biased in my favor just because I’m her kid; if she doesn’t like it, if she thinks there’s something wrong with it, she’ll let me know) or she buys it. But either way, she reads it and there’s something she’s pointed out to me on more than one occasion.

Sometimes she has trouble with the story because she can see bits and pieces of me in the characters and it distracts her.

Now this is not a huge concern to me. Joe and Jane Average-Reader aren’t going to be able to pick up on whatever characteristics of myself I put into characters, so it’s no big deal. I just find my mom picking up on even the smallest little tidbit amusing. And also accurate.

I do put bits and pieces of myself into my characters. And not just the protagonist either (though, they might have more than the rest). Something of me can probably be found in every single character I put on the page. And not just my good points, either. Many of my characters get saddled with some of my worst traits.

Part of this is probably ego. I find myself to be a great, complex, interesting human being on occasion, so why wouldn’t my characters benefit from a little bit of my awesomeness?

But the bigger part I think comes from a revelation I had when I was in high school.

For a while I courted the idea of being an actor. It didn’t matter to me that I was too fat and not pretty enough and my boobs were too big. It was something I wanted to do, so I gave it a run. I took theater arts my senior year of high school and I think I did a pretty okay job of it (I got an A in the class, for the record), though maybe the stage wasn’t my best venue. However, when it came time for our final project, a play put on for elementary school kids, I got the full-taste of what I could expect for my acting career.

I had to play Mother Goose.

See, the play was about Mother Goose’s children acting out various nursery rhymes to raise money so the bank wouldn’t foreclose on Mother Gooses’s shoe-turned-house. I wanted to be one of the kids because I wanted to play a bunch of the different parts in the nursery rhymes. Instead, because I was 18 and already looked like I’d had eight kids, I had to play Mother Goose.

And that’s when I realized I’d never be an actor. I didn’t want to be Mother Goose for the rest of my life. I wanted to be everybody.

Now, as a writer, I can be everybody. I can be a private investigator and a gigolo and a medium and a vampire and a bartender and a serial killer and a teen in the ’70s and a corrupt sheriff and a man gone missing. My size and my face and my ability to cry on cue don’t hamper me. And just like an actor, I use bits of myself to make the characters I play become more real.

It won’t win me an Emmy, but it’s still pretty useful.

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