Inadvertent Masks

If you’re a writer, you spend quite a bit of your time crafting characters.

They come to life through us. Through every level of creation, from their actions, to their physical appearance, through their unique voices—whether first or third.

Even if we hardly know them in the opening pages (hello, pantsers!), by the end of the story, we know their fears and goals, their worst secrets and greatest loves. Well, we at least have some inkling.

As long as there has been fiction, there’s been discussion about how much these figments of writers’ imaginations actually encompass their creators. Some writers say that they can’t help but see bits of themselves in their main characters. Some flat-out say X, Y and Z traits are completely copied from themselves. Others skirt the issue and say so-and-so is based on someone he or she once knew. Still others say there is not a single iota of themselves in their main characters.

At this point, I’ve written dozens of first-person female characters and three male. And though they’ve been a host of things I am not—detectives, FBI agents, fire fighters, parochial school brats, high school football players—and things I’ve been—newspaper reporter, college student, high school student, marathoner—I can say without a doubt that there are pieces of me that I spy in these characters.

Some of these things are subtle and just fit the character—a certain sense of humor, a love of a specific food, a tendency for perfection, a frustration with incompetence, a need for teamwork and dedication. Others are more wholesale—like growing up in Kansas City, living in Palm Beach County, Florida, an interest in healthy eating.

Either way, these items are undeniably me. I didn’t intend them to be, but it’s the way they worked out and I recognize that.

Do I see these characters as a mask for myself? Not at all. Am I kidding myself? I don’t think so.

Do you suspect a certain character (or three!) might be a mask for yourself?

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7 thoughts on “Inadvertent Masks”

  1. My characters definitely have a “mask” quality in a role-playing sense. Maybe because with a bad knee, they give me the opportunity to do things I’m not physically capable of doing. But they all also have a characteristic or two in common with me, whether it’s beliefs or sense of humor. I guess that mask them both mask and mirror. 🙂

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  2. Absolutely! Characters are made up of bits and pieces of their creator’s experiences–whether that experience comes from deep within or from a casual contact.

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  3. One thing I’ve noticed is that the closer a character is to me, the more frequently I’m told by beta readers and editors that she’s too passive. I never thought of myself as passive before. Or maybe fiction is just that different from real life.

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  4. Back when I was sending out my first Samantha Kidd book to agents, I used to hate the comment, “I didn’t connect with her,” because I thought, she’s me, so what’s wrong with me? But (like Theresa says) you can’t completely be a character because fiction is different than real life, and our characters have to be bigger than us.

    And “a mask and a mirror” = great!

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