Saturday, November 11, 2017

Should Your Protagonist Be Based on Yourself?

Should Your Protagonist Be Based On Yourself? - Writer's

Basing a character or characters on yourself is somewhat inevitable. Even if you believe you are writing characters who are entirely fictional, who live in a made up world and whose adventures and journeys are nothing to do with your own life, just by the fact that you are writing them, and they have been created from your own imagination, means that a little bit of you can’t help but sneak through.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with basing your protagonist on yourself, but it is essential to understand what makes a fictional character different to one in real life, and therefore one that readers want to read about. If your character isn’t engaging, captivating, exciting and full of life, it will be difficult for your readers to relate to them.
While you might be all those things, let’s face it, not every experience, thought or action in our lives is all that interesting, in fact, many of the day to day motions we go through are relatively mundane. So if you use yourself as a base for your protagonist, you must only take the most fascinating, unique parts of your personality, the most intriguing thoughts and the most surprising adventures and fictionalise them for your book.
There is the danger of putting too much of oneself into a character and therefore then becoming too attached to them. If you base your protagonist on yourself you might become overly protective of that character. You might not want bad things to happen to them, or might give them too much of your time in which case other characters suffer.
Putting yourself into your protagonist, or, indeed, any of your characters does take courage, and bravery in writing is almost always rewarded. Human beings are complex and fascinating. If you are really willing to explore the different aspects of your personality, your motivation for doing the things you do and saying the things you say, the things that make you most vulnerable, and most afraid, you have the potential to create a character whose openness and vulnerability make your reader go weak at the knees.
It’s also important to tune into the little things that make a character come alive, that make them human. We all have our quirks, our little personality traits that are uniquely ours. Hiccuping when we get nervous, having a compulsive bathroom routine, or singing loudly and out of tune in the car. Whatever they may be, zoning in on them and giving them to your characters will breathe life into them and make them seem more real and relatable.
Putting yourself into your characters takes practice, and while you might do it without even thinking about it, if you want to use your life and your experiences in your novel, there are some exercises you can try.
Write down all the things you love about yourself
Write down ten things that make you cringe
Reveal your darkest secret
Explore your saddest memory
Describe your body in detail - and be completely honest about it
Write down your five greatest fears
Exercises like this will help you do a little soul searching and help you pick out interesting things that you can use as character traits in your book.
Of course, to some authors the idea of basing a character on themselves is horrifying. There are ways to try and avoid doing so too. Spending time painstakingly creating a character who is nothing like you is doable, but you may well find that this character simply ends up being a manifestation of an alter ego you wish you had, the kind of person who does everything you want to, who says everything you are afraid to say.
The truth is there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to whether you base your protagonist on yourself, and in fact, it may be easier to accept that a little bit of you might rub off on all your characters, rather than fight against it.
Whether you are trying to or not, the most important thing is that you create characters that are alive, that have beating hearts, inquisitive minds, who are full of life, have passions, goals, fears and secrets. If you can create characters like that you are on the right track regardless!

Right before I decided on what I perceive as a memoir or something of an autobiography (the memoir instructor said some of the stuff I had included borders on an autobiography), the idea of a fictional novel has also occurred to me.  But when I began writing notes, it sounded more like memoir. There are many other things I could have included but didn't, which would have made the story seem more like an autobiography.

As for creating an autobiographical fictional protagonist, I think I may have done so in the diary novel I have begun. Except that the protagonist is a guy and I'm a girl! But it is set in the 1980s, and that is when I grew up. And the character is dreading having to get braces, something I myself went through then. So in some ways the character is autobiographical, the character's gender notwithstanding. 

Is this really what is meant by "write what you know"? 


  1. Listing ten things I love about myself would take a month of Sundays.
    I suspect that all writers create their characters from a scrap book of people they know, have heard about, wished to become...

    1. I think EC summed it up nicely. I think most fictional characters are a compilation of others real and fictional, and some of our own ideas and values thrown in.