That's not the only thing in that book that has my little Natalie Stamp on it, of course. Fiona has an intense love of freckles, which I've always adored. She loves Pop Tarts, and I might have been the President of the Pop Tart Club my sophomore year of high school (But she likes blueberry ones, which I've never cared for.).
And then there's the Taco Bell scene, which is based off my brother's amazing ability to consume food. And the community pool is taken straight from the one I went to as a child. There's even one character I named because I love that name and my husband hates it, so I knew I'd never get to have a child named that.
To get a little deeper, I've always felt invisible, and on more than one occasion I've wanted to really be invisible. So writing a character that was literally invisible was a kind of nod to that part of me that always felt unseen, unwanted, and lost.
I think sometimes as authors we are afraid to admit how much of ourselves goes into a novel because then we'd get accused of the dreaded Mary Sue Syndrome (If you don't know what that is, it's when someone claims an author has inserted themselves into the novel and the story is basically wish fulfillment). Well, today I'm here to say, so what? Yes, there are many pieces of me in my books—how could it be any other way? How could I make my work stand out without using my unique voice and interests? If I didn't write about what I liked, what I wanted to explore, what I wondered about, what I was most scared of, how could I find passion in my work?
No, my characters are not me, per se, but they are certainly created out of the things I find interesting. They inherit problems I have always wished I could answer. They sometimes have my passions, and sometimes they have passions I wish I had. And, yes, sometimes they like things I don't know anything about. Those characters are punks, making me research like that.
I write about worlds and topics that suck me in—whether that be ninjas, mutated crime bosses, witches out for vengeance, or just a boy who is tired of being second best to his best friend. I focus on the aspects of those worlds that I would care about. I develop worlds based on my own experiences.
I'm not sure how else to do this writing thing. To me, it wouldn't be fun if I took myself completely out of the book, and I have a feeling the book would be flat as a result. When I'm writing about things I like—whether it's an anime club or magic or linguistics—I am happy. More than anything, I've learned that enjoying writing is one of the most rewarding things a writer can experience. Everything else is tainted if you're not having fun.
From a literary theory perspective, I have to say it would be impossible for a writer NOT to be found in his/her work. We only know what we know and no one is privy to any larger perspective than his/her own. What's nice is when a writer can see this and appreciate how it limits her--what it gives, what it denies. I think that makes for stronger writing than pretending to some universal viewpoint.ReplyDelete
Natalie, this whole post is SO spot-on, but it would be silly to copy & paste the whole thing into a comment, so I'll just highlight this part:ReplyDelete
"Yes, there are many pieces of me in my books—how could it be any other way? How could I make my work stand out without using my unique voice and interests? If I didn't write about what I liked, what I wanted to explore, what I wondered about, what I was most scared of, how could I find passion in my work?"
A million times yes.
I'm not afraid to say that I am in my work. I never have been. (I also think it lends more credibility when I say, "No, that part is not me.") But it's a different thing to admit it than to EMBRACE it. You're encouraging the latter, and that's so wonderful. That's what will make writers braver, stories better, and readers more connected.
This is so true. There are so many elements of my MSs that I love deeply because I know they're a part of me. I wouldn't have it any other way. It's what makes them unique.ReplyDelete
I am scattered in a million pieces all over my WiP; I don't think it can be done any other way. At the same time there is no one single character that IS me so completely, or that is so completely what I want to be as to fall into that 'Mary Sue/Gary Stu' category - at least, I don't think there is. It will be interesting to hear what my wife has to say on the subject when I get to speak to her at lenght about it this weekend.ReplyDelete
I'm midway in my nano book (42,000 words - yay!) and am really having a hard time pushing forward through the dread middle.ReplyDelete
This post was just what I needed to read right now. Thank you, Natalie. I always enjoy your blog.
I agree with you and JeffO...I am in every part of the books I write. Shades of what I've seen or been through or people that really touched my life go into the mix. Great post!ReplyDelete
Edge of Your Seat Romance
I think the "Mary-Sue" element comes not necessarily from letting your character like the same things you like, but from being unwilling to really make them suffer or lose something important because they're basically a stand-in for yourself and you want to give yourself EVERYTHING GOOD. Who doesn't?ReplyDelete
There's totally a little piece of me in all of my characters. I'd be lying to say otherwise. None of them ARE ME, but some have my optimism, some my cynicism, some my interest in science, some my sarcasm, some my nurturing side... you get the idea ;)
I write what I know. And who do I know better than myself? There's usually a pretty obvious difference to me between people writing for wish fulfillment and people writing about things they happen to like.
I think sometimes the most vivid scenes and characters are taken from real life... taken and embellished--but grounded in something you know and love.ReplyDelete
So true! My books tend to be made up of 50% things I love and 50% things that terrify me. :)ReplyDelete
I think every writer must put themselves and their surroundings into their books. If I didn't do that, I wouldn't have anything to write. That being said, I never have a character exactly like me. I prefer to have characters who end up as I want to be.ReplyDelete
There is a ton of myself in every project I work on. It gives stories more depth and and personalizes it for the reader.ReplyDelete
As a teenager I was addicted to strawberry pop tarts, and so is the main character of my novel. great post.ReplyDelete
This is a truism I'm coming to terms with also. I think a big part of it is realising you have a life full of things worth sharing. Sometimes we take our everyday things for granted, and we need to remember that what we may accept as mundane can actually be of great interest to others.ReplyDelete
I love the enthusiasm you describe this with! Thank you!
Oh, I'm quite familiar with the Mary Sue syndrome... didn't know you were a comics fan back in the day though!ReplyDelete
And as authors, we're naturally going to put elements of ourselves into our characters. It breathes more life into them.ReplyDelete
Glad to hear someone else say this. So many times I read interviews with writers and they say their characters/ideas/what-have-you essentially spring from the ether. Everything I write springs from something concrete.ReplyDelete
I don't think there is anything I write that I couldn't trace back to its original source as something I saw, felt, experienced, fantasized, etc. But at the same time, these bits and pieces come together to form something that is (hopefully) original. It's like a collage. The overall picture formed is something I feel like I can say I created, but I know that it is made up of little bits of my life.