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April 26, 2009



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?

Paul has asked what his main character would do. So now he’s off to kill a demon, become a pirate, and destroy the world. Given who his main characters are, he’ll not be asking the question again…
  1. April 26, 2009 6:35 pm

    Paul – as usual you hit some very poignant issues liberally slathered with humour. I had tears in my eyes as I read your sandbox.. thanks…… though like you I too was becoming a little concerned about what my main characters might do.. hummm – now, Dante would spend 18 hours torturing that boss giving you a hard time ( that sound appealing), Tanissa might flutter her eyelids and have one of her body guards top him off and Turion would devise an escape plan to free all the oppressed workers after building a super robot from paperclips and staplers…..maybe thats why they are in THAT world and I am here…

  2. April 27, 2009 7:50 am

    I had to laugh Annie…my first novel was my life…a captured time…not fiction…

    It was the extremes of emotion to write it…and as narcassistic as hell.

  3. April 28, 2009 1:40 am

    My first novel will most probably be like this too, and kind of makes Dale’s post today fit well with this… you guys have got me thinking now!

  4. April 28, 2009 6:09 am

    I got through the “write-about-your-life” phase by writing very bad short stories, full of angst and resentment and veiled accusations about family, friends, growing up, etc. and foisting them on my now-defunct (I wonder why?) writing group.

    None of those stories were ever published, thankfully, but they had a great consequence: they made me grow up as a writer, liberated me to write what I needed to write. Not great literature, maybe, but something more lighthearted that came from my imagination instead of my psyche.

  5. April 28, 2009 6:12 am

    Yep – I am guilty of it. My 2007 NaNo project was a way for me to vicariously live the life I turned down when I chose not to run for the Senate in the 2007 Federal Elections.

    I know writing has always beena way for me to process the ups and downs in life. I never thought of my characters and the stories they share as a gift (sort of like friends with benefits – but different!)

    Considering I’m my own boss – I’d want to leave well alone from Dante – perhaps I’d have Ruby make me up a strong brew of something, day dream of a blue man coming to take me for a ride in his space buggy or perhaps see if I can find my way to the Green Room and ask if they’ll let me in!

    Yes – my characters are oh so sugar sweet compared to Paul and Annie’s creations.

    I’m sure all our characters are having very interesting conversations, on the other side, about the writers they create and all the well meaning, indulgent, self help they get via these poor numbskulls tapping away at the keys!!

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