I just finished a post by fellow blogger Bare Knuckle Writer, entitled: Mutants: You and Your Protagonist. In it, she describes how her protagonists eventually end up being some version of herself; her beliefs, her mannerisms, her idioms. Not a carbon copy, you understand, but a variation on the theme that is she. (If you don’t know what a carbon copy is, talk to your grandma.)
This got me thinking about my own writing habits and quickly crystallized into the realization that all of my characters, or at least the major ones, are some variant of me.
Although I would never—or at least rarely—expect me to perform any of the actions or give any of the speeches of my characters, to make the characters believable, for me to truly get inside their heads, I have to give them free range inside mine.
I have no expectation that I will ever chase a murder suspect down an alley or cut off my enemy’s oxygen supply to get him to submit to my will, but I can’t say the idea is impossible given who I am (and what I have muttered in traffic).
To bring out the best and the worst in my characters, I have to be willing to reveal the best and the worst in me. The process is a variation on what makes other writers’ characters relatable to me.
If we look at one of my favourite plays—Shakespeare’s Othello—I can quite easily visualize aspects of my personality and even past behaviours in all of the main characters.
I have spit venom and schemed like Iago, been as empassioned as Othello, been as blinded by lust as Roderigo, as fawning for favour as Cassio, and as blinded by love as Desdemona. All various aspects of one person’s personality.
In an ironic footnote of life imitating art, my wife finally took me aside one day to explain that asides only work in the theatre. Although it was true that no one could hear Iago’s asides in Othello, everyone in the real world could quite easily hear mine. This, of course, helped explain why all of my evil and cunning plans failed so miserably.
I am my characters and my characters are me.
It is less “you are what you eat”, for people like me, and more “you are who you write”. Thus, to thine own characters, be true.