Friday, February 3, 2012

The dangers of putting too much of yourself in a story

Hi all :) Taking a little break from editing to write this. Another busy week for me at work and lots of shoveling, winter sucks :( (at least here way up north in Newfoundland) but I digress. Tonight I thought I'd speak about a writing issue/subject I've thought on a fair bit lately, namely writing what you know and in particular putting yourself in your stories.

First though a message from our sponsors (namely me and Tasha): My book The Newfoundland Vampire will be on in April 2012 (still working hard on editing) and Tasha’s books (the second one I’ve read and highly recommend) are out now.

So when I started writing my book seriously about two years ago (I actually started it way back in 2002) I decided to base the main character, Joseph, largely on myself. I know it's been done but I couldn't resist. You're supposed to write what you know and what better do I know than myself? From the time I was thirteen I imagined what it would be like to be a vampire, so naturally when I wrote a vampire book the easiest way to write the main character was to imagine how he/me would act as a vampire.

I wrote the book initially as a sort of wish fullfillment/diary of what I had done in my life and how I imagined things could have turned out differently. The biggest problem with this idea (that I discovered much later on) is that like most people I don't have a very exciting life. So when you write a vampire's story and not much happens to him for the first 13 chapters or so, well it's not the most exciting read.

I see that now but for a long time I didn't. It's a strange phenomennon that when you write something so personal it feels good (I guess a little therapeutic even) but it takes the perspective of an objective reader to make you realize this does not make an engaging story. (Thanks Pat, I know you're reading this :-)

I became very personally invested in Joseph because so much of him was me that I lost objectivity, this was a mistake I can see now. I wish I had an exciting life like Hemmingway or William Shanter (give the guy credit, he's over 80 and still acting! :) or even Oscar Wilde.

("Picture of Dorian Gray" is amazing) but I'm not like those people (well maybe Shanter a little ;) and I had to make Joseph's adventures exciting and thus gave him some adventures I wish I had (and others I'd never want anyone to experience.)

But hopefully my life will get a little more exciting (I did have a car catch on fire last month) and in the meantime Joseph and my other vampire creations can be vicarious thrills for me and hopefully bring excitinment to those who read them. Until next time dear readers, I am . . .


Natasha Larry said...

nicely done. I agree with you for once.;)

jc andrijeski said...

I actually think it's a bit of a myth that we know ourselves better than anyone else. I think it's hard to write about yourself for precisely that reason...90% of people are deeply invested in not seeing themselves clearly, certainly not as objectively as they see others. The idea of writing with myself as a main character sounds incredibly hard to me for that me, there is this level of "normalcy" that doesn't allow me to see myself the way that others do. I would have to interview people who know me to even come close to getting it right. And that's the key, right? Creating real people out of our characters...people that others can believe really exist. I think that's tougher when you're just writing a fantasy. It's harder for your readers to relate.

But yeah, most people's lives aren't as exciting as a fictional characters! :) That's one of the main reasons we read and write fiction. :)

Interesting post...


Charles O'Keefe said...

Hi JC and Tasha :) thanks for the comments. I try to put up posts other people will like. Well as I said being objective is tough when a character is based on you but that's one of great things editors do :-) I'm sure most people have a blind spot for themselves, we make excuses sometimes and like to think we're always right when of course we're not. For me I've always wondered about the choices I've made and how my life could have turned out differently. So writing myself as a vampire was a very fun way of exploring that :-) I also agree about interviews, they are lots of fun and interesting. In hoping for a bunch when my book comes out, thanks again! =)

LM Preston said...

Sometimes that has to be the first story you write. Then with editing, an eagle eye and getting it out of your system, you open yourself up to writing even better stories.

Penumbra Publishing said...

Hi all, you are certainly right in different respects ... writing about yourself can be extremely difficult, especially if it gets too personal. When that happens, your objectivity as a writer just flies right out the window.

One of the things that makes good writing good is the author's honesty. When it comes through, a story becomes gripping and real. But when you write about yourself, you may have a tendency to be too protective, and that can get in the way of writing a story with the clarity of objective honesty.

On the other hand, imagining yourself in your characters' shoes is one of the best ways to 'get in the trenches' and extract genuine feeling from the characters' experiences.

Good writing ain't easy. Great writing is a heck of a lot of fun.

Keep it real! And thanks for a great (and honest) post, Charles.


Jo Schaffer said...

Good point. Mixing in what we know is important-- but we shouldn't be limited by it-- our imagination and characters should have input too. (=

Charles O'Keefe said...

You're welcome Pat :) I'm glad you enjoyed it. I'd love to be known as a great writer someday but for now I'm happy with writing a good story that many people will hopefully enjoy and those people who know me will get the extra fun of seeing where Joseph ends and I begin ;)

Walter Knight said...

I find that readers assume that the main characters in books are derived from the author's personality. I hate it when readers (and neighbors) try to psychoanalyze me by looking at flaws in characters I write about.

Really, I'm not that messed up. Flawed characters are more interesting to read about. It's just a coincidence my main character is a compulsive gambler, drunk, and unethical. It's not me! It's someone else.