|Cheesy self portrait in the mirror from my angsty college days|
No one wants to read 300 pages of this
Do you ever notice your own personality or experiences rubbing off on your characters? I never mean to write myself into my stories, but it happens. Sometimes I'm aware of it. Like my height. I'm short. To be precise, I'm 4 inches taller than legally disabled. I don't really know what it's like to be able to reach things without climbing or sit on a chair with my feet resting comfortably on the ground. On a daily basis, I don't think about it. In fact, I think I'm the same height as my average, 5'6" friends. But my stature shapes my world view and it pops up in my writing a lot. Often a main character is tiny, but if not, a secondary one is. It's something I understand and relate to, so it's easy to write.
There is a lot of danger in writing too much of yourself into your stories. One of my lovely CPs pointed this out to me when she read a scene from The Alterae based almost verbatim on a conversation I had with a friend in high school. In real life, it was a simple, heartfelt confession between close friends. In my book, it came off as preachy. Or even things like architecture. Where I live, most houses are single stories. In much of the country, families live in multi-level homes. One reader didn't understand how the shower was located so close to the kitchen in one scene. She expected the shower to be upstairs because in a lot of homes, that's where is should be.
I look at my characters and I try to balance making them real and relatable (which means drawing on things I understand) and making them copies of me. Emma in TA is far more insecure than I was as a teen, but her sensitivity is a huge exaggeration of my own. Gabe has a lot of me in him, especially the dark emotions simmering under a calm exterior. The couple times I snapped as a teen ended very, very badly. I try really hard to make my characters more than mini-mes. I want them to be as real to my readers as they are to me. When they start to get too much like me (or start to feel more like they're my kids instead of characters), I pull back, set them aside and give it a rest until I can approach them with a bit more subjectivity. That's kind of what happened with Ithaca. I got too close and I had to put it away for a long time, just to get enough distance to write clearly again.
No one wants to read a 300 page book about me. Sorry, I'm just not that interesting. That doesn't mean I don't pop up from time to time. It just means I have to work that much harder to make sure I'm writing my characters' stories, not mine. And when those characters become real to a reader, I know I've succeeded.
So how do you see yourself popping up in your writing? Any tips or tools for avoiding it?