Erika Wassall, the Jersey Farm Scribe here on…
Three Tips if Your Characters Are Just Like YOU
Who do I know better than myself? It seems a small step to make our main characters like us in many ways. And it can be powerful. It can lead to internal development that runs deep, is relatable and real.
However, at the same time, it can also lead to excessive over-indulgence, or even a one-sided character. Why? Because the character isn’t necessarily like ME, but more like how I see myself. Whether this is with a positive or negative shaded lens, the fact remains that often, there are aspects to the character’s drive that can be easily overlooked.
It’s hard to see the forest for the trees when you ARE the tree.
In the novel I’m currently working on, I had a clear vision of the plot. I had an actual beginning, middle and end. This was a big deal for me. I’d never seen a story quite so clearly for a novel before.
I tend to be character driven. I see a character in my mind. Their depth, their uniqueness, how they see the world. And then I create a story around that character.
This was the opposite.
As I got farther into my plot sketching, I realized that the main character had much in common with myself. And (perhaps because of that realization or perhaps because they were always there) I started drawing more connections.
For me, this was how I saw that I DID have a base for my main character. It was just SO familiar I hadn’t realized it before. It’s me.
As I’m writing, it’s become apparent how necessary this was for me to realize.
Why? It helps me keep a few things in mind:
1) Watch my crazy over-indulgence!
This girl is a lot like me, and we can both get wrapped up in the same things.
Reminding myself that we have a lot in common can help me reign it in. She’s interested in this. I’M interested in this. But we are coming from a similar place. It doesn’t mean it holds any relevance and it doesn’t mean anyone ELSE is interested in it!
While I do believe that drafting is a time when indulgence is okay, there is a line where I’m just wasting time and effort, getting off track. For me, I’ve realized that in general, when I start to wonder if I’ve gone off on this tangent for too long… it’s likely that it ACTUALLY got too long a few paragraphs ago and it’s time to move on.
2) It’s okay to say, What would I do?
In moments where I’m stuck, I close my eyes and try to feel what she would feel. While you can do this with any character, there is obviously something innately easier when they’re so similar.
I use this to help move a scene along and for showing, not telling. I close my eyes, and feel what she may feel, and then react. In my writing, I can simply jump to the comment or action. If the character development is good enough along the way, the reader will already understand where the reaction came from.
This is the powerful part of a character who is in line with your thoughts or emotions. You have a direct line into reactions. You’re already an expert.
Don’t shy away from this. But, be sure it’s always combined with this next point…
3) Never forget that it is NOT you.
Unless you’re writing a memoir, the main character is NOT you. They can embody aspects of you, experiences, flaws, even habits or intonations. But they also must develop their own.
The plot of your story should create room for them to grow and from the very beginning it can be beneficial to draw that distinction for yourself. Writing is powerful, and we can tend to fall down one of many traps:
– Make them who we WANT to be – creating an unrealistically idealistic character.
– Make them what we HATE about ourselves – creating an unrealistically down-trodded character.
– Make them so similar that we become overly protective – it’s often surprisingly difficult enough to put our characters through the pain they must experience to get through to the other side of the story.
There can be a lot of powerful writing, and a lot of self discovery that comes from creating a main character that we deeply connect with.
It’s not as easy, or as “natural” as it may sound. But it’s certainly a tool that is worth perfecting and using.
And our characters, and manuscripts… are worth it!
Erika Wassall is a writer, a farmer and a liver of life. She is a member of SCBWI and a proud Mad Scientist, bringing science experiments right into children’s classrooms, and hearts. She has a small farm in New Jersey with sheep, chickens, pigs and vegetables. Check out her new website at www.TheJerseyFarmScribe.com where as a first generation farmer, she often takes the long way, learning the tricks of the trade on The Farm. On her website is also The Shop page with tips and a free Q/A from her husband’s mechanic shop, and The Writer page where she shares stories, experiences and characters from the heart. Follow her on Twitter at @NJFarmScribe. She’d love to hear from you!
Look for Erika’s articles every other Wednesday on Writing and Illustrating. Thank you Erika for another great post.