Monday, March 25, 2013

Me Or Not Me?

By Reece Hirsch

It's natural for some readers to think that a writer's protagonists are thinly veiled versions of themselves, right down to their musical tastes, restaurant preferences and sports allegiances.  Whenever I encounter that assumption it makes me uncomfortable, in part because it's a bit true and in part because it's a bit false.

Normally, I'd just rather not talk about it, but since it's this week's blog question, I'll fess up.

Every writer has to use their experiences and impressions as their raw materials, so that will inevitably be reflected in the writing.  When I was writing my first book, THE INSIDER, I have to admit that I was wearing some of my cultural references on my sleeve.  Within the first twenty or so pages, I manage to name-check Leonard Cohen and Ross Macdonald, two artists that I like a lot.  And there are some ways in which the protagonist of that book, Will Connelly, is a proxy for the younger me when I was a senior associate trying to make partner in a law firm.  Will's perspective on Big Law is clearly drawn from my experiences in that world.  However, Will is also very much an invention, and he's different from me in far more ways than he's like me.

My new protagonist, Chris Bruen, is a little bit of a proxy for the older me, but he's even more of an invention.  For one thing, Chris, a former computer prodigy, is much more analytical and mathematical than I am.  When I thought about Chris's likes and dislikes, I wasn't merely superimposing my personal tastes.  Chris listens to a lot of Bach, finding in his compositions the elegant precision of computer code.  That decision led me to listen to a lot of Bach during the writing of my second book.

In particular, Glenn Gould's early- and late-career recordings of Bach's Goldberg Variations serve as bookends, commenting on Chris's frame of mind at the beginning and end of the story.  I listen to pretty much every kind of popular music, but I've always maintained a distanced relationship to classical, a little guilty that I didn't appreciate it better or love it more.  As I listened to the Goldberg Variations over and over during the writing of this book, it sunk in for me in a way that classical music never has before.

So, in that case, the character does reflect my personal tastes, but it was the character that imposed his tastes on me, rather than the other way around.  Now maybe I should write a character that would teach me how to love opera.


  1. Very interesting. The line about your character's tastes taking you over was just a li-hittle bit Bates Motel, but not in a bad way.

  2. As long as it was only a little bit Bates Motel. Otherwise I would start to worry.


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