Are Authors Really Their Characters?

I was surfing the web the other day and ran across a great and funny article about five authors who were tougher in real life than were the characters they invented. Yes, of course, I was hoping I’d be one of the five—in vain, alas. Kinda tough to be more kick-butt than a Jedi-ace-X-wing pilot, a Talion Justice or Resolute. I mean, heck, Corran has his own action figure!

I lot of us learned in school that there’s supposed to be a bit of the author in each character he writes. This is a fiction that teachers foist off on us because it’s been foisted off on them. Strikes me that it started with someone who wasn’t a writer, but recognized some characteristics of his friend, the author, in the author’s hero. This idea is sort of the second cousin of the other old saw, “Write what you know.” That’s also taken as accepted wisdom about the writing game, but when you think about it, the very existence of science fiction and fantasy just invalidates that whole idea.

Now, it is true that some authors do put themselves in their characters. Some of them don’t make any attempt to cover that fact over. No doubt that writing can be cathartic, and writing yourself into a story, or writing in a recent incident from life in, can help burn off some stress. I did the latter, by one of one example, in I, Jedi. Corran is getting on a shuttle and notices someone trying to stuff luggage which is much too big into an overhead storage compartment. This is a game that I’ve watched played on way too many flights. I resist the temptation to turn around and say, “Did you miss the signs in the departure lounge, or did you just figure the rules didn’t apply to you?”

Aside from some very obscure and minor cameo appearances, I don’t write myself into books. (I might have a contest for folks who can point out the places where I have written myself in. That would be fun.) That didn’t stop folks from suggesting that I’d done that very thing in I, Jedi. A couple of factors contributed to that assumption. Many readers who bought the book in hardback had never actually read any of the X-wing™ novels, so they had no idea who Corran was. The book was also written in first person, and there are a few passages where Corran and Luke have a difference of opinion. A number of readers assumed I was just writing myself into the story despite I, Jedi being the logical extension of Corran’s story arc.

It was to my great delight, after spending a couple years denying that I was Corran, to be invited by Decipher to appear as Corran on a card in the Star Wars Collectible Card Game. In that same set, Timothy Zahn appeared as Talon Karrde, and the two of us appeared on a promotional card with Shannon McRandle in her guise as Mara Jade. I shaved my beard off for that picture just to further confound those who wanted to suggest I was Corran. And later, at a convention in Australia, I overheard a woman pointing to the Corran card and saying, “They should have gotten a younger model.”

The fact is, I’m not my heroes. First, any of them would kick my butt. Second, I’m not sure I like all of them. I don’t think Corran and I would get along very well. Trick Molloy would look for any excuse to toss me from Club Flesh, though our mutual appreciation of Irish Whiskey might slow him down a little. And Moraven Tolo… actually, the entire world of the Age of Discovery series scares me. The further I can get away from all of those folks, the happier I’ll be. And all of my characters say and do things that would flat get me killed.

So the fact of the matter is, I’m actually good with not being any of my characters. That frees me up to pull in all sorts of cool elements to create them. I get to mix and match things and shape a whole being, much like an actor creating a role. When I do the job well, the characters take on a life of their own and tell me their story. That makes the job a whole lot easier.

But, if you’re in school, don’t feel you have to contradict your teacher. You don’t need the lowered grade.

Just wait. In some story later, you can straighten her out. Well, not you, of course, since you’re not your character, but you know what I mean.

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9 Responses to “Are Authors Really Their Characters?”

  1. Will "scifantasy" Frank 23. Oct, 2009 at 10:38 pm

    I seem to recall hearing–perhaps in an interview?–that you once did put yourself into one of your Battletech stories…and when the readers figured it out, they figured the character was safe. You promptly killed him off.

    Or am I remembering incorrectly?

  2. I’ve begun to think that I don’t know anything till it does get written down so I’m glad to see you feel the ‘Write what you know” advice is a bit misleading.

    It sounds as if by separating yourself from the characters (avoiding alter-egos) makes it easier to highlight the flaws that make them human (or alien).

  3. When I got I, Jedi in hard cover, I knew it was a continuation of the X-wing series. I have to be one of the few then.

    I’d like to think that some of the compassion and kindness of Nolan in Talion is a character trait of yours though. I have my reasons.

  4. Hey, even if writers are not their characters that doesn’t stop them from wanting to be them.

    And there are quite a few examples of bad writing (Twilight, Eragon and the like) where the main characters are the writers or their imagined fantasies.

  5. saw it on cracked didn’t you?

  6. As the link shows, the article was on Cracked. I think I got there via the Huffington Post, which linked to it for a bit. I thought it was very cool.

  7. Shadow Chaser 30. Nov, 2009 at 7:50 pm

    I also saw the Decipher card and while I knew that it was you, McRandle, and Zahn playing your respective characters; I thought they should have gotten a much younger model/actor to play Corran (no offense). But even though the writer may put a little part of himself/herself into the characters they created, does it bear in mind that you put yourself into the other characters of Star Wars that you created? Like Gavin Darklighter or even Tycho Celchu?

  8. A younger actor? Perhaps that shot was just of Corran when he was my age when the picture was taken. (Like in the NJO series.) :)

    None of me in Tycho or Gavin, alas. Both were constructs designed to fill a role.

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