Is your book's main character YOU? - Danielle L. Davis

Is your book’s main character YOU?

“Is Sydney Valentine you?” I’ve been asked that question several times. I imagine that if the main character is of the same gender as the writer, that might be the assumption with some readers.
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I think most writers would say that a few (or all) of their characters share some of their traits. It could be something minor. Perhaps the character and writer share a dislike of Brussels sprouts. I don’t like them. I ate them as a child because—well, because I wanted dessert.

Vivid characters are formed from our own life experiences, whether it was experienced personally or observed and happening to someone else. Have you ever read a book and found yourself nodding or laughing out loud at something the character said or did?  Did you react that way because you could relate to it?

You don’t have to be the one with a broken leg to see how it affects the injured person when they try to get around. You can feel. You can empathize. Well, unless you’re a sociopath—then all bets are off.

Imagine a child falling off of her bike when the training wheels come off.  I’m using ‘she’ and ‘her’ to be consistent. I’m not implying that girls are clumsier than boys. We all know that’s not true. 🙂

The girl might scrape her knee (if she’s not wearing knee pads).  little_girl_Crying_iStock_000021008407Small_webAt some point in your life you’ve probably experienced falling off of a bike or  you saw someone else fall. Could you imagine how a child would feel when she looked down and saw the blood? Fear. Pain. If others were around she’d probably try not to cry. The chin would quiver. She might limp away pushing the bike or she’d get back on and try again. Good for her!

Paying attention to one’s surroundings, including the people, and how they interact and react in various situations, are how characters are formed. It’s how my characters are formed. Of course, there are some writers who ARE writing themselves into their stories. I’m just not one of them.

Here’s a conversation from The Protector between Sydney, Bernie, and Charles Tenley. Tenley knew a homicide victim and the detectives are interviewing him. He has allowed them to enter his apartment.

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“Have a sit down.” Tenley plopped his scrawny butt down in the corner of the sofa and set his Corona on the end table. An overflowing ashtray sat next to it. I observed no drug paraphernalia out in the open. “I’d offer y’all a brew, but y’all be working.” He gulped his beer, then burped.

I leaned in. “Mr. Tenley–”

“That’s Chuck to you, pretty lady.”

“Mr. Tenley, I’m sure you’ve heard about your girlfriend’s murder by now?” I asked.

He shook his head. “Ain’t got no girlfriend.”

“Your former girlfriend, then,” Bernie said.

“I’m married to my former girlfriend. She ain’t dead.” He grinned. “Well, sometime she just lay there when she had a long day at work.” He winked. “Know what I mean?”

“Mr. Tenley, we’re referring to Beatrice Menifee,” I said.

“Hey.” He pointed a grubby finger my way. “I told you to call me Chuck.” He leered.

“I’m going to call you arrested for possession if you don’t start cooperating,” I said, although I had no probable cause to arrest him.

“Okay. Okay. A man can’t have no fun no more.” He picked up his beer, turned it upside down and a few drops dribbled out onto his Levi’s, which were already in need of multiple heavy-duty washings.

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I don’t know anyone like Charles Tenley, but I sure enjoyed writing the character! He’s a conglomeration of people I’ve observed throughout my life. But, isn’t that what all of our characters are? They’re just our observations that have been fictionalized to suit our needs.

Sydney Valentine is not me. She is the type of character I wanted to read about and I wrote the book that I, as a reader, wanted to read. Sydney Valentine was born from that desire. My hope is that others would want to read about her, too.

How much of your main character is you? Do the characters you create share personality or physical traits with you?

About the Author danielleleneedavis

  • That’s a very interesting observation!

  • When I asked my sister for examples, she says it’s just the way my characters talk and think. She can’t really give me examples.:-) I haven’t lost any sleep over it! 🙂

  • That’s very interesting. 🙂 Did they provide examples? The next time someone asks me if Sydney is me I’m going to ask for specific examples. Thanks for the comments, Mary.

  • This is a fun and thought provoking post, Dani. 🙂 My character is not me, but my sister and a close friend both say they see me all through the pages.:-) I don’t see it at all! 🙂

  • Thanks Barb. 🙂 I dyed my hair red once, in my late teens. Big mistake! Talk about dry and brittle. I stepped up the deep conditioning, then dyed it back to its original color (very dark brown) soon after. There was no way I was going to maintain that look. I wish I’d taken pictures! I never did that again. I could try a wig though!

  • barbtaub says:

    I bet you’d look great with red hair! Good luck with the extra three inches though…

  • I guess the readers thought I’d fictionalized myself. I gave myself the ability to box and perform martial arts. Oh, and I now have curly red hair and grew three inches taller.

    If thinking Sydney’s me encourages them to buy the book then I’m all for it. How’s that for hypocrisy? 🙂

  • It makes perfect sense, Elaine! 🙂 Thanks for commenting. I’m glad you loved the excerpt. Tenley is quite a character!

  • barbtaub says:

    Great post! This is one of those must-be-said observations.

    I’ve heard a variation of this one for painters too. (ie the Mona Lisa is actually a self-portrait, etc.) But I think it’s another face of the “write what you know” fallacy. Books would be boring, and there would be no works of fiction if all characters were the author (or the author’s partner) and all plots were limited to the author’s experiences.

  • You make some really good points here Danielle. I think for me my characters have some of my personality traits, but mostly they’re their own person if that makes sense. I loved the excerpt BTW.:)

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