Building Your Characters ... from You?

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Creating a fictional character.
Should it be based on you?
Photo credit | EKHumphrey
I was thinking about the advice to write what you know. More often than not, I have taken that advice as: don’t write about Akron, Ohio, if you’ve never been there. For me that’s a done deal (and one of the reasons I would never make a good science fiction writer)
As I delved into my work-in-progress novel, I started wondered how this might extend to my characters’ development. Am I taking it too far if I include my own personal details for my characters'?

For example, I have a lifelong serious food allergy and I eat gluten-free foods. I started thinking about adding one or both of those elements to my protagonist’s life. For the most part, when I start writing fiction I’m not thinking about my characters’ next meals. But the idea of adding one or two of these elements feels like a natural fit.

Here are some of the reasons I’m considering it:
  • Write authentically about the experience. I don’t spend time writing fiction about living without certain foods, but it is an integral part of who I am so it is something that I definitely know.
  • Highlight one facet of the character. This wouldn’t be the character’s only unique quality, but it would help bring depth to the character. For those who don’t have food limitations, the knowledge I can impart might be a teachable moment. Isn’t it cool when you are reading fiction but actually learn about something real?
  • Pull inspiration from reality. I’ve heard many comments through the years and devised many witty retorts (sadly too long after the fact). For some of the dialogue, this would allow me to rely on some of what I’ve experienced.
  • Avoid research mistakes. My character can prepare a gourmet gluten-free meal without me thinking twice. If she decides to take up deep-sea diving, I’m out of my element and would spend time carefully researching. But may still miss the mark.
I’m leaning toward my character having those interests. Any reasons why I shouldn’t consider layering personal lifestyle elements when developing my character? What have you done in similar situations?
Elizabeth King Humphrey is a writer and editor living in North Carolina. Currently she’s engrossed in reading mysteries from the early 1940s … when she should be writing!


Sioux Roslawski said...

Elizabeth--In my WIP, I've included heaps of my own personal experiences and personality quirks in several of my characters...and it's been a way of working through some issues. Hopefully, all those characters don't sound like a clone of me. ;)

I think as writers, we just naturally inject a little bit of ourselves into our characters. It's a way of writing what we know quite well, and it's a way of living life twice--as our characters are tackling problems and enjoying achievements--so that we are able to relive those experiences.

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