Thursday, July 23, 2015

A Little of Me, a Little of Someone Else

by Alan

Is your protagonist really you? How do you separate him/her from you?

Frankensteins monster I am not my characters. I’m not a depressed stand-up comic. I’m not a rich workaholic. I’m not a radio talk show host. I’m definitely not someone who must eat human flesh to survive (at least I’m pretty sure I’m not).

I am my characters. I laugh. I cry. I strive to be a good person. I get annoyed. I’m rude (not very often, but it happens!). I know what it’s like to wait in line to buy a ticket, and when I get to the front, they’re sold out. I hate traffic. I like cake (actually, I love cake).

Sometimes I even talk out of both sides of my mouth (just like my characters!).

Of course, I don’t consciously try to pattern my protagonists after myself. I mean, who in their right mind would want to read about me? I’m dull (seriously). Readers would be bored after a page and a half. And I don’t try to write characters who are simply an exaggerated version of me. That just seems weird and egocentric. Introducing Alvin Worloff, the smartest, funniest, most interesting man in the world. He doesn’t drink beer often, but when he does, it’s Dom Perignon! There he goes on his jetpack to rid the world of talking velociraptors!

Um, no.

On the other hand, how can my characters be anything but me, at least on some level? I mean, they emerged from my head; their actions are informed by my thoughts, experiences, and emotions. Their every thought is filtered through my lens. They have to be part of me, almost by definition.

Sure, I do my best to portray them as being unique individuals, unlike me for the most part. Give them a different set of values, have them believe in stuff I don’t. Make them do things I would never, ever, ever do (cannibalism comes to mind). But I think if you’ll examine any of my characters, you’ll recognize at least some aspect of me, no matter how hard I try not to let any of my DNA creep in.

But what should I expect? I created them.


Paul D. Marks said...

I'm eagerly awaiting the Alvin Worloff Chronicles! Please don't keep us in suspense any longer. :)

Art Taylor said...

Alvin Worloff—yes! I can't wait.

RJ Harlick said...

Our characters can't help but have a little bit of us in them. Good post, Alan.

Susan C Shea said...

We (Gigi Pandian, juliet Blackwell, Kelli Stanley and I) got asked that last night and Julie made the same point you did: Since we have to make these characters up, even a murderer, to be believable, must have thoughts, emotions, reactions that come from the writers' imaginations to a degree. Good post, great illustration!

Alan Orloff said...

Paul & Art - When Alvin Worloff shows up, the criminals read their Miranda rights to themselves.

RJ & Susan - I guess the trick is to give our characters a healthy dose of stuff that isn't us. That's why my characters don't flinch when eating a grilled cheese sandwich.