Writers are, by and large, a fairly self-centered and narcissistic bunch. After all, we have the temerity to think that our thoughts are important enough that others will want to read them. We long to see our name on a book cover, in a glowing newspaper review. I have a recurring fantasy of travelling on the Tube, watching someone reading a book with my name on it, and they look up, see me, check the author photo, then look back and smile.
And as with all self-centered and narcissistic people, there are fears and issues lurking below the surface. Self-doubt, a need for acceptance, reassurance, and a certain timidity and fear of failure that means we don’t always reach for what we want.
Many first novels by new writers are thinly disguised fantasy autobiographies. Look at the main character, then find out about the author, and the parallels will be stunning. It makes me wonder what the friends and relations of an author must make of first published novels.
“What do you mean an overbearing mother, drunken siblings and resentment of how they held you back?”
“That’s not me, that’s my main character!”
“A likely story!”
The first novel-length story I started work on was rather like this. The main character was a Scottish law student who travelled to London to study and wound up unsatisfied in a career that wasn’t what he wanted, and held him back from pursuing writing. Gosh, how on earth did I come up with that idea….?
But in projecting our lives into a fictional world, we can work out on paper the issues that affect us. We can be the best person we can be, even a person we never thought we could be, in a story. Our main characters can do and say the things that we hold back from, through fear, propriety, whatever.
Maybe it works the other way too. Maybe, if our main characters are a part of our psyche, then we can take those strong aspects and project them back into our life. When the boss is giving you a hard time, how would the unflappable detective handle it? In difficult times, maybe one of your characters has a deft and diplomatic manner that you can borrow. After all, if they have it, it came from you, so it must be part of you.
Many writers begin a scene, and let events unfold in a natural manner, depending on how they feel the characters would react, rather than the dictates of a pre-arranged plan.
Maybe in life, not just in fiction we should ask ourselves – What would your Main Character do?