On the Absolute Write forums, someone posted along the lines of saying that characters shouldn't be based on real people, they should be stereotypes that walk and talk like real people do.
I'm a real person! Honest!
Cue a knee jerk reaction that, Noooo stereotypes are bad.  But it got me thinking, any way.  I still think writing a character as a stereotype is lazy and a bad way to purposely approach making a character.  But basing your character after your best friend is not the wisest move, either.

Writers really shouldn't insert themselves into a story, but is there ever a character that a writer can't see themselves in at all?  I don't think so - not if the character is well-rounded enough.

This is my outward appearance.
People are tricky, complex, contradicting creatures.  I might as well just talk about myself as the only example, because I'm best qualified to talk about me.  If I had to give myself a quick stereotypical description, I'd probably go with "attention whore".  I always want something crazy to say to get attention.  But at the same time I'm really reclusive and I suck at socializing with people.  Is that description accurate?  Yes, but it's grossly one dimensional.  There are a million little things that make up who I am, and most of them are oddly contradicting.

Me as a writer. Yes, this disturbs me, too.

 If you saw my profile on AW, its got an avatar with a fat unicorn and rainbows, and my signature is similarly packed with sickeningly cute things.  Yet I don't often find something worth writing unless it's full of disembowelment or such things.  I love unicorns and glitter, my personality to others is pretty much trying to be everyone's funny friend, but I write about death and mayhem.  If I were a character, you'd probably throw the book against the wall because I'm so wildly inconsistent and badly written.

I am a character.

What?  No, I didn't self-insert.  At least, I didn't try to.  I will confess, when I began my character, she was secondary and I could only describe her in a stereotype, knowing fully well that it wasn't all she was:  "slutty".  That was all that I could put my finger on.  Now that characterization is kind of obliterated, but she's still the same girl.  I see myself in her - namely, the lack of ability to connect to reality.  I didn't even realize it.

My werewolf? I see my shared desire for the macabre.

Her brothers?  I see my struggle with sexuality, how sometimes I can think I'm better and smarter than other people, and my fear of "settling" for what life has given me.

Every one seems to have a piece of me, or something that I can connect to.  Even though one is closeted, one is racist, and one is family orientated, and those are things that are far away from what I am.

What I'm getting at is that it's okay to put a piece of yourself into a character.  There's a difference between writing yourself into a self-indulgent fantasy, and putting a facet of yourself and your experience into a character.

This book emotionally destroyed me. So good.
I've been many people in my life.  I've been an angry little kid.  I've been naive and detached from reality.  I've been a loving friend, and I've been a backstabber.  I've been a criminal.  I've been a philosopher.  I've been the girl who lost a parent.  I've been the one who will fight to the death over what she believes in, but who is too insecure to pick up a phone.  To label myself as one of any of those things is ridiculously narrow, but I can use a few of those facets and build an entirely new character.

It's not just my characters.  Take Animorphs, for example (I loved Animorphs. Okay, I still do).  Jake, the virtuous leader. Rachel, the fighting spirit.  Marco, the joker.  Tobias, the emotionally aloof.  Cassie, the bleeding heart.  Ax, the curious and intellectual.  I see parts of myself in all of them, even if I don't like it.
I'm interested - if you think about it, can you relate to all of your major characters, even if you have to admit it's through a bad trait?

People say, Write what you know.

Since when have you ever known YOURSELF to be a one-sided stereotype?
3 Responses
  1. Anonymous Says:

    Your writing reflects who you are, your experiences and outlook on life. The test comes when the characters peel off the page and take a life of their own. They are you but they are themselves: what you love, what you hate, what you wish to be.

    Nothing wrong with that.

  2. Dae Dreams Says:

    True words, ralfast. I always see my characters as someone that I might have been, or could be. I see myself that way with real people, too. I find myself thinking, "If I went through their lives, I think I'd be just like them."

  3. Anonymous Says:

    It's a funny thing. I often worry that things in my writing will tell the people close to me things that I don't really want them to know - sometimes, little bits of me do just slip in, unintentionally. I was talking about this on my blog the other day, oddly enough!

    I study anthropology, and one of the problems with anthropological methods (fieldwork) is that it's pretty much impossible for an anthropologist to completely detach themselves from their own personality, upbringing and experiences, perceptions etc...and I think the same goes for writers. It's coming from you, so there must be some of you in it, even if it's down below the surface where no one will really notice.