First, I would like to thank Honya’s Bookshelf for nominating ShannonAThompson.com for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award. I posted about it on my author Facebook, but here were the three blogs I nominated – A Writer’s Life, EBook Bum, Books are Delicious – and I would love for you all to check them out.
July is here, and I’m beginning this sizzling hot month with a topic that I often get heated about. (Not angry. Just passionate.) As a reader, writer, and employee of a publisher, I see all sides of this topic, but the most common misconception I see is writers believe in whatever the characters or story expresses. I am here to disprove this.
I’ve actually mentioned it before in my article The Top Ten Seriously Awkward Conversations I’ve Had When People Hear I’m A Writer, but here’s the small quote about that:
“7. Why are you pro/con (insert controversial political or religious topic here)?
I’m sorry – what? Just because my character carries a gun on his right hip or gets an abortion or believes God isn’t real, doesn’t mean that I do these things, let alone believe in them. In fact, I don’t have a lot in common with many of my characters.”
When I started publishing, I was really young and naïve. I never even considered someone judging my personal life off of my work, but – to my horror – this happened. (And “horror” is an appropriate word.)
My first novel that I published was November Snow. A lot of characters – mainly young children – die. (It says this on the back of the book. Just saying.) And for some reason, shocked readers seemed to look at me a little different the next day. I even had a teacher ask me if I needed to talk to someone in a concerned tone I will never forget.
To me, this was so surprising because I felt like they looked at me as if the violent world was a reflection of some deep and dark complexity inside my teenage soul, but – in reality – I was just writing a story about discrimination, violence against the innocent, and oppression.
The reason I’m so passionate about this topic – that authors are NOT their fictional stories – is because I felt as if the meaning of my novel disappeared under the concerned wave of my reading peers.
Before you think, “Oh. That was only because you were 16 and in high school.” Here’s a few example from my latest work. (Spoiler Alert for Seconds Before Sunrise. If you want to skip the spoilers, please go to the next bolded line.)
In Seconds Before Sunrise, Jessica goes out with her friends. She drinks. The reader sees her have a few beers and a shot of vodka, but she does mention that she drank more than that in the next chapter. However, I am now being asked if I am such a lightweight. (Because apparently all of us brunettes are lightweights.) I’ve also been asked if I like beer (no) and vodka (yes. Only Grey Goose. What can I say? I’m half-French.)
Just because Jessica Taylor goes to a bar underage with her friends does not mean I go to the bar with my friends underage, that I ever went to a bar underage, or that I’m encouraging kids to get into bars underage. First of all, I’m not underage, and second, I don’t have any friends. If I’m going to the bar, I’m taking my characters with me. (And probably a notepad so I can write interesting stuff down about interesting people who will probably become interesting characters in my next interesting novel.)
Now, if I had to be honest, sure, there are some things I might have in common with my characters. But I have lots of things in common with a lot of people. That doesn’t mean we are the same person. Same thing with characters. One of the biggest questions I’m asked about The Timely Death Trilogy has to do with the physical description of Jessica Taylor in Minutes Before Sunset and how I look.
I get it. Jessica has blue eyes and curly, brown hair. I can see why people might think that’s why she looks a certain way. But there are millions of people with curly, brown hair and blue eyes. And she also has a double identity. As a shade, she has straight, black hair, so she doesn’t always have curly, brown hair. In another point, I picture her hair to be much darker than mine and a lot more maintained. It’s also curlier. She also has blue eyes. Mine are gray – they are technically called “moonlit.” (Awesome.) And she has purple eyes when she’s a shade. When I turn into a shade – wait. I don’t. I don’t transform into a mystical being at night, and if I did, I surely wouldn’t admit to it.
But I try to avoid describing my protagonists in extravagant details, especially since it is written in first POV, because I want my readers to be able to put themselves in their shoes. I don’t want readers to think they are supposed to be in MY shoes instead. And my next novel, Take Me Tomorrow, is told from one perspective, Sophia Gray. She loves her elkhound-husky, Argos, but she hates cats. She absolutely despises cats. If you’ve been following me for a while, then, you already know that I don’t. I’m a cat lady. But here’s a venn diagram – Take Me Tomorrow style – to show difference and similarities.
Just because a character does/thinks/feels something does not mean that it is a reflection of the author. It’s not some subconscious, multi-personality Matrix. It’s not deep-rooted secrets or twisted desires surfacing under the tip of our almost-empty pens. Sure, it could be that way for some (or even many authors) but not all of us are basing our novels and characters off of our real lives. The art is just art. It’s a story. And that can be a pretty deep and complex experience without the author’s personal life being involved.
I am not my characters, but more importantly – my characters are not me. They are complex and meaningful and questioning and confusing and lovely in their own way, and that’s what makes books so amazing. If I were the protagonist in all of my novels, you wouldn’t be shown a world with clairvoyant drugs or paranormal shades. You would read about me sitting around with my cat. And I think we all know what we would rather read. :]
Sit back and enjoy the read! And if you’ve ever experienced someone thinking you are what you write, please share below!
22 thoughts on “I Am Not My Characters”
I don’t know if the cat does tricks I might be interested…;) Mine barks and chases large dogs away while my Rottweiler sits lazily and sniffs things.
Great point by the way, I love when people identify with my character (or create character that I identify with) but just because you look or act the same, or have the same name as, my character does not mean that I wrote you into the book…just like my main character being interested in literature and music does not make her me! (for one thing, my pet dragon isn’t a portable living necklace)
Definitely something to think about when reading and when writing.
I love how you added how amazing it is when readers identify with characters. I think it is great also. Thanks for sharing your story!
Aw, man. Here I thought you did have magic powers.
I recognize a bit of myself in my characters. Except, I’m taller than 3.5 feet and not a hopeless romantic. I don’t have teal hair and I’m not naively adventurous. Yet, I have been asked that question.
Makes me wonder why it’s tough to get people you know to read some of your work. Maybe they’re afraid they’ll think you’re writing about them?
I thought I had magical powers, too
Thanks for sharing your story! It would be interesting to hear from the perspective of a reader who doesn’t write – whether or not they fear that a writer friend might put their secrets or nuances in a novel. Interesting topic to point out!
We are not our characters but it’s fun to crawl uo in their minds. I totally get your point about people thinking the book is about you or you are the protagonist. I got that a lot with my first book, even though she’s an old woman and I’m not, anyways now with my second they realise my characters are not me. 🙂
I haven’t quite decided if we crawl into their minds or if they crawl into ours – I like to believe it’s a mutual crawling. :] Thanks for adding that!
Good read, and funny you say this. Because recently I said pretty much the same thing here: http://tariencole.wordpress.com/2014/06/30/where-we-discuss-who-tarien-cole-is/. Mainly because I got into a FB discussion a while back with other AUTHORS who swear this is impossible. That we ‘must’ be inserting ourselves into the story wholesale. And I was saying, “Meh. Not so much.” 😛
I have heard authors say that, and it just makes me cringe like crazy! It’s okay if they want to say they based characters off of themselves, but they can’t decide that for all authors. Thanks for the link. I will check it out now.
Get that a lot. Due to the ‘open relationship love triangle’, several readers think I watch a lot of porn and want to have a threesome. (Uh, no and gross.) My female heroes take hits like the males and come out of fights with injuries, so some readers have started calling me a misogynist. Forget the fact that the male heroes get the same treatment or worse. I’ve been accused of having father/son issues because I do a lot of ‘father/son butting heads’ scenes. Been called an animal abuser because the demonic assassin killed some wild animals out of boredom. (Wow.)
I’m actually holding a little dread for the release of my 5th book next month because of a new villain. He’s a sadistic, evil, monstrous, raping bastard that starts off torturing the most innocent of the heroes. Honestly, I can’t wait to write this guy’s death scene. Just imagining what readers are going to toss my way gives me agita. Though, I do wonder if villain actions don’t cause this as often as hero actions.
Thanks for sharing your story! I like how you point out that readers don’t just judge authors for their protagonists but also their villains. It’s so true! I think that was my problem with November Snow. They saw the violence and looked at me like I sat around day-dreaming violent thoughts INSTEAD of focusing on the novel to understand what that violence represented.
I hope your release goes well!
Thanks. I’m sure the release will go well. I’m nervous because it’s Book 5 and there’s this off ‘rule’ that big things happen to the sales of a series when it hits 5. No idea what though.
As for the villain and author connections, I’m always tempted to say that it’s a good thing I have writing as an outlet for them. Though I’d be more likely to act like the comic relief.
It’s so nice to hear that other authors have this same problem. I played it somewhat safe with my first novel, and wrote a story based in a world I was pretty familiar with, but it was still fiction, and the characters invented. But even though I tried to make that clear early on, I was still asked a number of times if I was writing about my myself and my own relationships.
I will plan on even more awkward conversations with reader’s of my follow up project as I am even less like those characters.
A really good topic! I don’t understand why some people can’t see the fact a story is fiction and doesn’t represent how an author feels about certain topics. I would have thought that was just a given when reading fiction.
Views and opinions are contained to a story and it should never be thought that the author feels the same as what they have written. If the author wanted to express their own beliefs on something, they’d have to written an article or biography!
Great post, got me thinking 🙂
I’m nominating you for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award. Is that 2 nominations now? Awesome blog! link here http://thetroubledoyster.blogspot.com/2014/07/inspiring-blogger-award.html
Oh, thank you! I will be sure to share it. You are very kind.
While we writers should always give consideration to ideas or causes that our work might seem to champion — especially if we’re writing for a youth audience — I agree that my characters aren’t “me” or any other specific person. It’s kind of weird when friends sidle up to you and ask, “Is that character based on me?”
When my characters would get out of line and do something I didn’t approve of I would always cringe, expecting to get those types of looks and criticisms from readers, particularly those who knew me personally but weren’t authors. The big lesson, of course, was that our characters need to be true to themselves and if we don’t let them “do their thing” whatever that happens to be then they’ll be unconvincing, fake and superficial. I plan to keep a link to this blog handy for anyone in the future that takes me to task about the behavior of any of my characters. When my characters take over the story I love it because I figure if they keep me in suspense then they undoubtedly will do the same for my readers. Whether or not I approve is a moot point. Great blog, Shannon.
I sometimes get these kinds of questions when some people who actually know the ‘every day’ me read something I’ve written. They seem to automatically assume that whatever I’ve written must have been spawned from my own experiences. I can tell you now that I have never baked a cake laced with arsenic, given a Martian a Mars Bar or had any kind of cosmetic surgery on any of my lady places.
I think some people need to get it out of their heads that not all fiction is based on fact. It’s in the imagination for God sake, we don’t have to experience something to be able to write about it! 🙂
“But I try to avoid describing my protagonists in extravagant details, especially since it is written in first POV, because I want my readers to be able to put themselves in their shoes. I don’t want readers to think they are supposed to be in MY shoes instead.”
That has to be my favorite line! This post has answered a lot of questions I had after reading your books. This just sums it up so eloquently, and I love that you WANT the reader to identify with your character too. I think that is so important in Young Adult fiction. They want so deeply to connect to characters, for someone to understand. 🙂