This week’s question: What bad habits does your protagonist have, and do you share them?
[Cue up sound of raucous laughter.]
It’s a funny thing. Dani O’Rourke is younger, snappier, more social, and much braver than I am. She can stay up past midnight without becoming a zombie. I do not share her good traits. The bad ones, however, seem familiar. Dani doesn’t listen when her best friend suggests caution. She never eats just one cookie. She goes through bouts of working 24/7. She is suspicious. She is not the most attentive driver. She buys clothes optimistically, that is, with the belief that she will fit into them better one day soon, when she stops eating cookies.
If it sounds weird, it isn’t. Most of us are susceptible to the idea that we’d be happier if…you fill in the blank. So, given the opportunity to create a fictional avatar of sorts, we start playing around, based on our fantasies. This is not a gender thing. Think about the guys who write he-man protagonists who get the sexy women by merely twitching an eyebrow. Writers say they have to inhabit their characters, so we get to play dress up, or Superman, or the popular cheerleader, or whatever we can pull off in fiction.
When we go into our mental grab bags for bad habits and vulnerabilities, we are – almost all of us – so relentlessly self-critical that listing them for use in the story is easy. Can’t get a date on Saturday night. Can’t think straight when confronted by someone who’s just a teensy bit upset. Can’t cook. Can’t give up chocolate. Can’t keep our mouths shut when diplomacy might be the best course of action. Can’t say no when people lean on us for favors. (“My roommate died and I was wondering if you could please check out the guy who was stalking her? Pretty please?”)
I try not to fall deeply into that trap. Because I already use a bit of my professional background for Dani’s life, I need to maintain distance elsewhere. It feels strange to have someone ask me if I, like my protagonist, was once married to a multimillionaire. Our histories, I assure them, are different. But I have to admit I bought a sleek designer dress with a long skirt. It will be perfect when I lose 5 pounds and 20 years.