Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Me in My Fiction

Writing isn't as easy as it looks.

I've been to a few writing conferences, taken more than a few creative writing classes, and read several books by fairly famous authors about the writing process (Stephen King's is good until he tells people how to wrap up a book quickly--do as he says, not as he's ever done), and one thing I've noticed is the wide variety of opinions on how much of yourself can go into a character before it stops being fiction and starts being a weird diary. Some authors say no more than 10% of any character can be you, some say zero for pure fiction (Bradbury for example), and other said next to nothing, but then later realized they were lying (King for example), and still other says a piece of them is in every character they ever wrote (Hemmingway). Or there's the idealized versions of self or the pessimistic versions of self people write in. Joseph Conrad told most of his stories through the voice of the man he wished he was: Charles Marlow, while Vonnegut wrote an example of himself, Kilgore Trout, if things hadn't gone well in publishing and had him run around failing at being a writer inside of Vonnegut's wildly popular novels. Stephanie Meyer all but beats us over the head with the fact that she is Bella Swan, but J.K. Rowling intimates the Harry Potter children are more like actual children for her.

Every time I hear a theory on this that I think I like, I inspect my own writing and come to the conclusion that my best material immediately contradicts what I wanted to believe was true of writing. Of course, that's probably just an irritating trait a lot of writers have with enough self-reflection and time to attempt real growth. I don't know what theory I subscribe to when it comes to 0-100% me in a character. I know I haven't gone to 100% and I'd probably be able to find at least a 1% in every character I've written. What I am interested in, after being asked what I thought about this, is why I put as much of myself into the characters that I did.

Top 5 characters I've written with the highest percentages of self:

#1 Gieo aka Stacy - Astral Liaisons / The Gunfighter and The Gear-head (story and novel) - 85-95% me.
The obvious stuff aside, being from Orange County, being socially awkward, being an outcast in high school, and being Korean (I'm part, she's full-blooded) this is the character I feel most like. Her sexual proclivities match mine in that I switch wildly from top to bottom at the drop of a hat or panties and her tastes in sexual acts almost perfectly mirrors my own. What really surprises me is how emotional I get when I write emotionally volatile scenes for Gieo. She's not a Bella Swan though as I don't envy her situation in the novel the way Stephanie clearly wants a 17-year-old vampire boy who sparkles in the sun, but I would put her as the most accurate depiction of myself in my fiction.

#2 - Dr. Holly Berri - "An Archeologist's Dream" in Demons of Paradise - 60-75% me.
I always pictured her as looking like Amy Acker

Even though the fantasy in the story isn't my own, it's actually something very sexy my girlfriend told me happened to her several times in high school short of the ending anyway, the character has a lot of my more eccentric personality traits. Holly is so professional in so many settings with this weird, kinky, spastic side right under the surface just looking for a reason for it to come out so she can do something bizarre. I think Holly actually looks forward to the end of the story when the world finally sees her for the goofy, impetuous person she really is. This mirrors me in real life--I'm far more respectable in person than I ever am online. Tweeples, Facebook friends, and blog followers get to see a side of me that is on a short-leash in real life. No secret mummy dream lovers for me to merge the two worlds though.

#3 - Clover - "Growing a New Garden" in Astral Liaisons - 60% meClover is the literary embodiment of my rebellious side. She is the freedom fighter I wish I had the courage (or capability) to be, but is completely enthralled by her lover (something I know all too well). Sexually, she has the same secret inclination to lose control, even if it means personal danger, with a desire to completely give in to pleasure in all its forms. The pollination room scene is from one of my favorite dreams of all time, but not particularly realistic outside of fiction or sleep. The vulnerability for Clover only comes into play when it comes to Nightshade and the myriad of ways she lets her lover control her sexually and emotionally. This easily manipulated position in a relationship is something I know all too well; I am the heart-on-the-sleeve girl and Clover's weakness is born of my own.

#4 - Lizette - "Of Love and Actual Demons" in Demons of Paradise - 50-55% me
Alison Haislip looks like I imagine Lizette

Lizette is actually a lot closer to my scene girl persona Lizzy Dark, which is why she made the list. She's petulant, selfish, and a little psychotic. What gives Lizette her appeal is actually her inexperience in the world and the wonder derived from learning about it. In the story, she's something of a psychopath, which I'm not (I don't think), but with a bizarre twist. Interest in small creature comforts is a huge trait Lizette and I share; I'm just not willing to go to the extents she is to get them.

#5 - Leilani - "Unimportant Important Things" in Astral Liaisons - 45% meI think Leilani more encompasses the feeling of complete awe I have around my girlfriend. Someone tall, beautiful, athletic, brilliant, talented, funny, interesting, organized, compassionate, popular, charismatic, and capable can really make everyone around them feel inept; being in a relationship with someone like that and being gone in love with them can drive a person downright crazy. This was what caught for me in this story. Of course, the resolution to this crazy feeling in the story probably isn't likely to happen in my reality, but the crazy feeling is similar. There's also just the lovely goal in life of being able to find someone to be silly with. the wavelength Leilani and Ivy are on in the story should be the goal of everyone in their love life. There's just something magical about being with someone who gets you.

According to some writers, I've gone well overboard in how much of myself I pour into my stories and according to others, I haven't gone nearly far enough. This was an interesting question about writing, and even though I'm probably not experienced enough to be an expert on the topic, I get the feeling my answer is fairly similar to the one a lot of more experienced writers would give. Frankly, I think it's unavoidable in some measure, but I also don't believe anyone can fully put themselves into a character because the vast majority of people aren't honest enough with themselves to truly put their true essence into a character without revision for the better or worse.

Being honest with you, my lovely readers, I am easy to find in the character listed above.

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