The YOU in Your Characters

Is it true that there is something of yourself in your writing? In your characters? Don’t worry, I’m not going to get deep into literary critical theory today. But, I think there is definitely something of ourselves in our characters. Maybe not the murder and the mayhem of a villain. But, even if you’re not given to murder and mayhem in real life (I hope not!), perhaps you’re a bit of a chaos spirit yourself in other ways. Regardless, I believe there’s likely something of you in your characters. I know there is always a little bit of myself in mine. I think it’s a good thing.

Writers spend a lot of time researching new skills, trades, cultures and experiences in order to get them right in the story. I may never have flown a plane or been in the military, but in order to write such a character, I’d need to do research into how the whole thing works. People often think that fantasy writing is cheating because you can just make up whatever you want. But, really, that’s not true. There’s still a lot of research involved in fantasy.

While some authors spend months upon months researching a place, a person, a vocation (which I have done and will do as needed going forward), I still think going back to the roots of your own experiences makes great fodder, too. In my recent novel, NightWind, the heroine, Vea, was originally an artist. Specifically, she studied ceramics. Well, in a former life, I was very focused on ceramics. I studied ceramics for 8 years, throughout my middle school and high school years. I know the tools, the vocabulary, how to throw pots on a wheel, kilns, the feel of the clay in my hands, how the clay dries out your skin and more.

Writing about something you know intimately allows you to bring out really finite details. Vea was a ceramicist and also used a bow and arrows in her new vocation as a member of the military. Both activities place a great emphasis on your hands, arm strength and the like. Therefore, I spent some time throughout the book focused on Vea’s hands, having the character think about how her hands once created things of beauty and now, they kill. That duality is intriguing in so many ways and I’m convinced that it came out because I was already so familiar with ceramics. Now, my understanding of shooting a bow is nonexistent. But, I’ve read enough books with bow users in them that I get the gist of how they work. Also, my dad used to bow hunt, so I have his stories and knowledge at my disposal.

I really liked the idea of writing a story about an artist turned hero. It’s unexpected. Thus, I am going to do it again – write a story about a character who wouldn’t typically be in the hero spot. This time, my heroine will take up a different former vocation of mine.  This time, I’m writing about a bartender! And, I’m really excited about it. The bartender character in literature/fiction is traditionally a background character. This individual may offer a path to understanding for the hero or respite during a tough time. But, my bartender, who goes by Nix, craves something more.

I don’t have all the details worked out yet. I don’t know what her story is yet either. But, I have the beginning of the character and I’m excited to explore and build her world. I’m also excited to bring out my bartending knowledge and use it to enhance the story. Right at this moment, I’m envisioning a funny scene in which Nix is on a pirate ship and takes a swig of their rum and declares it terrible or something of that nature. Not a good idea to insult the host’s drink.

Anyway, writing from your own experiences can be really rewarding and bring out some unique details that you wouldn’t normally have – even with all the research in the world. There’s just something unique about first-hand experience that research can’t replicate (and believe me, I’m a huge proponent of doing your research!)

Have you ever brought your own life experiences into your writing and given them to your characters? What were they and how did they turn out? I’d love to hear from you! Hope you all are safe and healthy 🙂

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