Every Writer Does This

Posted: February 8, 2013 in ideas, Living and Life, Reflections, Writing
Tags: , ,

It’s not uncommon for people reading fiction or watching a movie to identify with a character and say to themselves, “I want to be like that character”, or “I so wish that could be me.” We’ve all done it at least once. For years, I waited for a letter to go to Hogwarts, and was a little disappointed that I never got one, even if I knew it wasn’t possible to get one. Teenage girls today look at the Twilight books and films and wish they were so lucky that two hunky, supernatural guys would fight over them, even if one of them has some personality problems and wants to bite you. And I think plenty of us have wanted to blow up the Death Star or use the Force (I know I want to be a Sith Lord).

But it may surprise some people that writers of fiction do this too. In fact, it’s not uncommon for writers to insert themselves in their stoires, sometimes in very heroic or very different roles that are unlike who they really are. Now, you may be thinking, why should a writer do that? Shouldn’t they be creating figures we ourselves want to emulate, not figures they want to emulate or wish to be? But if you think about it in a certain way, it makes sense:

Nobosdy ends up a writer by accident or by purpose. We end up as writers through the various events in our lives. Yes, some of us show talent early on, but we don’t end up becoming writers just because we display talent. I ended up a writer because I liked to create stories, and writing allowed me to take those stories and share them with others in a very efficient way. Not only that, but I had plenty of people over time who encouraged my writing and helped shape me into the person I am today.

Imagine what would happen if I had never learned to love writing though. What sort of person would I be? Well, maybe I’d be a psychology major instead of double-majoring in History and English. I’d be learning about psychopathy and trying to become an analyst for the BAU. Of course, I wouldn’t look forward to the Stats classes. Those are tough!

Or imagine if I’d never come to Columbus and made a fresh start, but instead stayed at the same school in my old town where I was bullied. I might get fed up with it and one day just snap. This would lead me to become a delinquent with anger issues, and eventually I might go to jail for all of my fighting and other bad behavior. Or maybe an intervention might occur, I’d repent my ways, and become a lawyer dedicated to reforming schools.

Or imagine I was a girl. Would I still write? Might I instead be interested in a different lifestyle? Perhaps I’d be a friendly rival of Lady Gaga in terms of fashion and singing! Or perhaps I’d have done some stupid stuff in high school and I’d be a single mother working her way through college. How would I find time to write with all that going on?

You see what I’m doing here? I’m imagining myself in different roles and under different conditions. And as each person is the star of their own story, I’m basically imagining myself in a story where I’m the star and I’m very different from who I am. It’s not too hard after this to apply myself in a different character role for a completely different story.

And the examples above are only the start. It could get wilder, especially since I write fiction with horror/sci-fi/fantasy elements. Imagine what I would be like if I grew up in a world where psychics were a real phenomena, and about 10% of babies were born with it. Imagine that I was born with psychic abilities. What would my life be like? Or what if one of my siblings was a psychic and I wasn’t? Would jealousy make me do strange things?

Or what if we lived in a world where South Africa was the dominant superpower on Earth? How different would our culture be? Would I still be living in the US, or would I live in Johannesburg?

What if humans weren’t the ruling species of Earth, but some other creature was? Would the relationship between humans and this ruling species be symbiotic or would we be hunted by them? How would I feel about the relationship?

Or imagine if the Kingdom of Israel had never fallen, but had lasted for centuries, expanded beyond its original borders, and Islam and Christianity were minority religions like Judaism is today. Would I live in Israel? What would I be doing there right about now? What other countries, faiths, and cultures would exist? What sort of technology would be available, and would the religious establishment allow or ban certain types of technologies?

Or imagine that humans never aged beyond fifteen, died at sixty-three, lay eggs instead of gave life birth, and turkeys were considered divine symbols? What would the world look like, and what sort of strange comedic science-fiction story would I be living?

You see how this is for writers? We put all these possibilities into motion when we sit down to write and we insert ourselves into the story in some capacity. It’s weird, but it’s what we do, and as you can see from above, it’s a lot of fun to do. I actually do it a lot. And if anyone tells us that we could never be military captains or wizards or the pop divas with supernatural abilities, we just say, “It’s fiction. Besides, who says if things weren’t a little different, I might actually be these things?”

What’s your favorite role to imagine yourself in when you insert yourself in a story? Do you think you could be any of those things if life were a little bit different?

  1. HMCWriter says:

    Most charcters hold a piece of us in them…whether we are like them, want to be like them, or they are similar to a person in our lives (loved or despised). A great deal of the time Rami, my chatacters will almost ‘come to me’ and then write the story with me. This is why we feel for them when we write.
    Imagination is a wonderful thing..isnt it!

  2. Oh its so common! I was told every writer writes themselves into their characters to some extent, and all the greats did it! Oscar Wilde wrote himself into three characters in A Picture of Dorian Gray, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote himself into The Great Gatsby at least twice, and James Joyce was the main character in A Portrait of the Artists as a Young Man. And I know from personal experience that it’s an easy habit to fall into. You empathize with the characters you create and end up writing them doing what you’d see yourself doing in their shoes, or reacting as you have in your own life. The only way to avoid that is to so carefully craft your characters that they become mere objects and stand-ins for the plot. Who wants that?

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