The Line Between Your Characters and You

Recently, I’ve been reading Limyaael’s old posts/rants on writing and they are extremely helpful. Her focus was the fantasy genre, but I think a lot of her advice applies across the board. The rants are fun to read, as well. I wish she was still around.

However, Limyaael seems to disagree with the idea of “working out your own issues” through your characters and your novel. She says that “therapy” and “diaries” are for dealing with your problems, not your characters.  She cites people who write about teenage heroines in awkward family situations, being yelled at by their parents to “clean up their rooms.” You know, characters dealing with modern drama in a fantasy context.

Yeah, this is annoying. I do dabble in YA (ashamedly…but also not, some of it’s good), and there are times where the heroine is obviously based on the author. Sa-rah is short and has long raven-black hair with blond tips because she’s magic, and is sick of her parents telling her to be a lady, so she fights with them and hates her miserable life (Sa-rah being some cheap attempt at making the name Sarah more “futuristic” and different).  We’ve probably all come across a character like this at some point (*CoughMarefromRedQueencough*). It’s an overdone trope in YA and appeals to the teenagers who, omg, have to do chores, thus selling books.

However, when it’s done right, I really don’t see a problem with using your characters to work through your issues. Writing is an opportunity to express your emotions and create characters that help you understand yourself and the people around you. It’s not always a conscious thing – I’ve created characters that are mirrors of some of my own internal struggles without meaning to. Stephen King has done it, as well. He said a lot of his characters unintentionally struggled with alcoholism because he himself was fighting that demon.

I’ve been through some hard times in my life, and writing helped me cope with them. In fact, one of the first epic stories I wrote was when I was 14 and dealing with a bad breakup (yes, I know, but I was an angst-ridden, hormonal teenager). Would I ever let anyone else read this story? Fuck no. But did it help me deal with my problems? It sure did. I recently re-read this story, and the dialogue and characters were pretty good (all obvious teenage-drama-inspired things considered). This is largely because I based them on real situations, real emotions I’d felt, real people I knew and real conversations I’d had.

There’s nothing wrong with letting out your emotions through your characters. People often feel like they’re the only ones going through a certain situation, feeling specific things, and that they are alone because of this. If you create characters who feel the same things you do, I believe that you’ll create someone that others can connect to. You might also create a character that helps your reader better understand themselves and the people around them. Personally, I’d rather read a book where the characters are realistic because they struggle than one where they are strong because a rape doesn’t affect them (see rant several posts below). I think most people agree, which is why series like A Song of Ice and Fire are so popular. We can relate to and understand the characters, even if they are assholes.

I think Limyaael was trying to help people avoid creating characters who are always based on themselves (otherwise they’ll all be the same), or characters who struggle with problems that don’t fit into your story. Or, more importantly, annoying characters who whine and complain about mundane crap everyone has to deal with. Or… characters who are strikingly beautiful with silver-green eyes and beat up the bully and everyone in their school of magic loves them and they are now super popular unlike me irl unlike before. I agree with Limyaeel on this entirely. But I don’t think anyone should feel bad about working out their issues through their stories, because I think a lot of times it adds more to your characters rather than taking away from them. And if your story does end up sucking because of this (which, unless your character is having a mental breakdown because their parents won’t let them stay out past 11, it probably won’t), keep it to yourself and use it for you. There’s no shame in that game.

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