Thursday, March 14, 2013

Putting Yourself into Your Book

Everyone knows that if you write fiction, then you write fiction. You don't put yourself into your book. And, yet, most of us do just that. We put ourselves into our books.

Think of the lawyers who write legal thrillers. They put bits and pieces of themselves in their book. They write from their experience and knowledge. What they know goes into the story. They may even base their protagonist on themselves or on friends or acquaintances.

I'm an ex-mermaid who wrote a book, Angel Sometimes, with a protagonist who is a mermaid. The character, Angel, is very different from me. But the things she does as a mermaid -- ballet moves under water, picnicking underwater -- those things are from me. In effect, I taught her how to do those things. I taught her how to eat and drink underwater, how to do synchronize ballet. On the other hand, there are a lot of differences between us. I swam at a resort, Aquarena Springs. Angel swims at a bar/restaurant. I was in an open environment. She's in a closed one. If something went wrong when I was in a show, I had three escape routes. If something goes wrong in the tank, Angel has only one way out. My show area was huge. Angel's is much smaller.

The list could go on, but you get the idea.

While you don't want to put yourself into your book, you undoubtedly will put your knowledge, research, and experiences into your book. It may be only bits and pieces. Or it may be bigger chunks. It only works, though, if it fits in with the story and it fits your character in the book. Swimming as a mermaid fit Angel because she was in the 6th grade when she was abandoned to the streets. It doesn’t take a degree to swim as a mermaid. The base requirement is that you can't be afraid of water.

How do you feel you've put yourself into a book?

Helen Ginger is an author, blogger, and the Coordinator of Story Circle Network's Editorial Services and writing coach. She teaches public speaking as well as writing and marketing workshops. In addition, her free ezine, Doing It Write, which goes out to subscribers around the globe, is now in its fourteenth year of publication. You can follow Helen on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn. Helen is the author of 3 books in TSTC Publishing’s TechCareers series, Angel Sometimes, and two of her short stories can be found in the anthology, The Corner Cafe. Her next book, Dismembering the Past, is due out in Spring 2013.

22 comments :

  1. Based on superficial resemblances, readers are quick to identify me with certain of my characters, but I counter that they are all me. Ultimately, all our characters spring from the same cerebral cortex. We mold and modify, embellish or simplify, but in the end they are the images of our imaginations, even when we base them on real people.

    I find that I am more prone to recycle events than people, to put real-life experiences into a fresh, created context.

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  2. Helen,

    Thanks for the glimpse into the world of mermaids, very interesting. As for interjecting myself into my stories, I agree with Larry that all my characters have shades and angles of me written into them—whether intentionally or not.

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  3. Since we cannot write convincingly about something of which we have no knowledge, I have to agree with Larry. Definitely, I incorporate elements of me in my characters, both protagonists and antagonists. However, those elements are altered to fit the characters and 6thus become their own. I understand them because they come from me, but they take on qualities and attitudes uniquely their own. Why? I didn't force them into a box that made them clones of me. I let them soar.

    It has been said that fact is stranger than fiction. I suggest that fiction is based on fact and can be just as strange, depending on the latitude we allow our imaginations. Excellent post, Helen!

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  4. A water person, eh? Me too ... no Michael Phelps, but I was an HS swimmer.

    As to the question at hand ... it seems like it would be pretty hard not put yourself in your work ... unless you're channeling someone from the great beyond. Maybe that's not so farfetched ... I often get a flick on the side of the head from my wife with, "Hello, McFly, are you home?"

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  5. Larry, it's always interesting when people ask if a character is me. With few exceptions, my characters are nothing like me.

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  6. Allison, I like that description. Characters do have shades and angles of the writer.

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  7. Well said, Linda. If I need to write something I don't know, I try to do extensive research. Luckily, I don't feel the need to do that often!

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  8. Christopher, you always make me laugh. Have you ever channeled a character?

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  9. Seriously, Helen? This post is going to end before you tell us what you meant by saying that you are an ex-mermaid? I suppose my life experience is narrow in the oceanic aquamarine quasi-sciences, but I want more!

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  10. I think it is almost impossible not to put yourself in your writing.

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  11. Hi Kathryn. I swam as a mermaid for three years at a resort called Aquarena Springs while I was in school for my B.A. and M.A.

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  12. Totally agree with you Lauri. Most of the time, it's only bits and pieces and not noticeable. Other times, it's more.

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  13. In bits and pieces, like you say. Shreds of personal knowledge and experiences, but also quite a few gee-I-wish thoughts and if-I-were-in-that-spot-confronted-with-that-problem,-what-would-I-do kind of moments.

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  14. So true Anna. As writers we have to ask those kinds of questions, whether we're writing the protagonist or the antagonist. I, personally, do a lot of research on some pretty weird subjects.

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  15. I think there have to be bits and pieces of ourselves, as Larry said. Even if we're clueless about a topic (I've never been a mermaid), we're going to do some research and then try to put ourselves in that position, drawing on whatever experience we have.

    The thing that gets me is that everyone asks if my sex scenes are based on life experience, but nobody ever asks me if I've ever killed someone.

    Terry
    Terry's Place

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  16. Terry, have you ever killed anyone? I have. On paper. I bet you have, too. In fact, I think everything you write is from your own life. Right?

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  17. That's very cool, Helen. It's nice to get to "know" you and to realize your first-hand experience to teach your character.

    On the other hand, I just read a book where the author mentions her own name and the title of another book she wrote. For some reason, that turned me off. I think it needs to be subtle, like in yours.

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  18. Heidi, she probably thought that would be clever and make the reader smile. Instead, it just trips up the reader.

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  19. I think there are little bits of me in every character, but strongest in my second book's MC, Sarah. A lot of that was in connection with feelings.

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  20. I use some of my own experiences in my books, but adapt them to fit the circumstances of the novel and the way I want my character to act and feel.

    Morgan Mandel
    http://www.morganmandel.com

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  21. By inserting the pieces of things we know, we make the fiction that more believable. I knew you were a mermaid. So when I read your book, I believed everything mermaid-related. I didn't have to question that part of the story, because I trusted your professional knowledge. That said, it never occurred to me that anything else about Angel was based on you.

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  22. I love using my past experiences and interests to build my character because I think it helps the character seem real and helps me build passion for the story.
    Thank you for writing this interesting article.

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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