View Full Version : 'I' is not 'Me'

12-28-2006, 12:30 AM
There have been several interesting threads on how authors tend to put their own characteristics into their characters, but I haven't seen any (recently anyway, if I've simply missed them, feel free to post the link) on a related topic: when people assume something an author writes is about himself or herself.

I'm a little surprised that even fellow writers sometimes seem to have a hard time making a distinction between an authorial "I", a first-person approach, and the actual writer.

I suppose it should be a compliment to the writer that they've made things realistic enough that someone assumes it to be true, but I also think it can be a disservice to the writer, not giving him/her the credit for being able to imagine and create beyond his/her own experience.

12-28-2006, 12:36 AM
Wait....so you are NOT a goldfish?

12-28-2006, 12:41 AM
No, she's a clown fish! (sorry, slight obsessive Nemo fan here!)

12-28-2006, 12:43 AM
Wait....so you are NOT a goldfish?

Obviously not! If you look at my avatar, it should be clear that I'm a clownfish. ;)

12-28-2006, 12:46 AM
And I also apologize for derailing your more important, good point in the original message!

12-28-2006, 12:49 AM
I firmly believe that a lot of the confusion, even among writers, comes from the well-known axiom, "Write what you know." Combine this with the fact that many beginning writers do start out by fictionalizing their personal experience and it cements the idea that the characters are the writer-in-disguise, even when there's no logical reason to believe that it's true.

12-28-2006, 12:55 AM
I've never written myself or my own experiences into my stories - though I hear a lot of writers do that. So far the only first person I've done came from the view point of a 30-something, good looking male PI.

None of which I am. Except for the good looking part :D

12-28-2006, 01:06 AM
My current WIP is completely me. Yes, it's an urban fantasy, but the MC 1st person narrator, is me. Totally.

Well, except I'm not a single dad, with a daughter, nor do I have occult powers, or run a stage magic store, or...

12-28-2006, 01:25 AM
My main character’s lifestyle is nothing like me, but my emotions flow through her. I am exposing a part of me by using her as a cleansing mechanism. When you write fiction, the only people who can actually see parts of you in the story are close relations. Readers and writers might assume characteristic traits are you, but there is still doubt.

12-28-2006, 01:31 AM
The MC of the novel I'm editing is totally the anti-me. I mean, she used to be like me, but now she's like my opposite. Well, except for some of her basic human emotions, vulnerability, fear of rejection, etc.

My first novel, though, I used the adage, "Write what you know," and based two of the MCs on different aspects of my personality.

12-28-2006, 01:44 AM
The whole 'write what you know' thing always confused me. I mean I understand the concept, but it made me feel that if I wrote something that I wasn't personally familiar with, I wasn't being truthful. Like In 'Little Women' when Jo finally gets a book published because she writes about her sister. But I've discovered that if I write what I know, as in genre, as in what I like, as in what I have immersed myself in, then I am just as satisfied with the results. As far as MC's being me. Sometimes they are a lot like me, sometimes not at all. The MC of my MG that I sold, is a lot like I was when I was young. Though I think she is way more rebelious and brave. There is nothing wrong with basing aspects of a character on yourself, but sometimes you can limit yourself if you are too rigid in sticking to your personality entirely.

12-28-2006, 02:42 AM
A member of my writing group likes to say that it shouldn't be "write what you know" but "write what you want to understand." I like her way of thinking.

12-28-2006, 04:16 AM
If I only wrote what I knew, my main characters would do nothing but play computer games, read books, and watch movies. I would never have learned about lockpicking, guns, silencers, or the proper way to cut someone's throat. Contrary to popular belief and Jack Thompson, those aren't a normal part of a gamer's skillset.

12-28-2006, 04:45 AM
The heart knows things, thank goodness, and so does the back of your mind. It's not just limited to "Write about what you have on your resume."

I have noticed confusion with the "I" in short stories, particularly the slightly more realistic ones. I had a first-person story where the main character winds up sleeping with some woman (for whatever reason) and I remember how worried and confused the phone calls were from my mom, who couldn't quite decide if it was truth or fiction.

It's the same thing as if you write a short story which is dark and grim. People assume you're manically depressed, or something. Evne worse if you write a dark poem or song. People nod and decie you're one step away from suicide, or some such.

People have trouble distancing the work from the author. Of course, sometime the author has trouble distancing from their own work (they need to get out of their own way sometimes) and then it gets clumsy. the literary equivalent of tripping over your own feet.

12-28-2006, 09:52 AM
Write what you know. Yes.

I say do. But realise that what you know isn't what you do.

I know loss and loneliness, chemical ecstasy and the cold terror of being utterly, physically lost. For instance.

I know these things, and I use them in my writing. That's what it means, 'write what you know'. Other things I don't know much about. I've never parented a child, for instance.

Are my characters me? Sure! All of them are. Though I don't think any of them resemble me. But they sprung from my mind, from my knowledge of what it is to be human. I take bits and pieces of myself, mix match warp and twist. Out come characters, all me, yet none me actually.

12-28-2006, 09:57 AM
My character is going through abuse, which I once went through. Anytime I tell anyone about my book, they assume it is autobiographical. It annoys me to no end. SHE IS NOT ME!! (Even if it is in first person!)

12-28-2006, 07:39 PM
LOL. I can't tell you how many times someone came up to me and said, "I hope the main character is not you -- he really has problems." It didn't help when I told them the original premise of the novel came from a personal experience. LOL. (But the answer is no.)

I have another story in which the protagonist (1st person) is considering suicide. I'm sure it alarmed some of my friends. (The answer is no, I am not suicidal, at all.)

I think it's natural for writers to write themselves in the story and for readers to think the character is the author, especially if it's 1st person. There are a lot of Mary Sues in fiction. Even Jane Austen wrote herself in her novels. But I think one has to distinguish between the character itself and the themes the character represents, the life it leads, and the emotions it goes through.

I think the themes and emotions do represent the author's in many cases. I say "many" because there are stories that are purely stories -- the authors are not trying to inject any of their world views through their characters. But in many cases, especially in first person narration, the authors do filter their own experiences and views through the character. In that case, it's very natural to assume that the character is the writer.