I Am Not My Main Character

On this beautiful Thanksgiving weekend, let’s be thankful to all the people who’ve ever asked an author, “Is Mary Sue’s story based on yours? You and her are a lot alike!” Without those people, I would not be writing this.

In the dozens of novel ideas I’ve had and started (most of them not making it past five chapters with few exceptions) I have not based my main character on myself. They were all their own individuals with their own quirks and flaws and habits and experiences.

But people just love asking writers if their characters are based on themselves. It has happened to me, and you see it all the time in author interviews.

And once an author admits that yes, my punk-rock ninja boarding school heroine is based on myself, it doesn’t ring the same. Mary Sue is based on the author? Well, that’s, that’s….that’s cheating! Why couldn’t she just write a memoir? Isn’t that, you know, pretentious? Wow.

Suddenly people are treating the author the same way people treat those unfortunate souls who announce their love for One Direction. “Oh, well, I guess that’s your choice…but we’re not friends anymore. I’m deleting you from Facebook.”

Very not cool.

The next step up (or down?) from this is when writers take themselves and make them better. Thinner, more confident, usually with added combat skills and some steamy romantic interest. This is even worse in the eyes of people who find this out. It’s just…weird to most readers.

But here’s the deal. My characters are not me, nor are they better, stronger versions of myself. That being said, a lot of the times the easiest things to write are things I know best. “Write what you know” mantra. That includes certain circumstances and certain reactions. First hand experience is the most accurate way to present the same situation in writing, and I incorporate this into my storytelling. It could be something small, like a joke I shared with a friend, or a similar reaction to the wedding of Will and Kate.

There are aspects of my life that make for good reading. So why not include it? It isn’t intended to be a reflection of my life or the way I live it, but it makes my characters’ lives a wee bit more genuine.

But these are far and few in between. Great Aunt Emily in my WIP, for example, is a total figment of my imagination. I never had such a great aunt (thankfully). There are a few exchanges between characters that are snapshots from dialogue with a friend, and little annotations about things like rural life (e.g., the smell of manure in July) or the woes of going to a small high school.

Taking this another step deeper, I like telling stories that are “real” and “relatable.” I mean, who doesn’t? That’s the obvious goal of every writer. I grew up in a small town — a village, technically. The cow to person ratio is something like 6:1. You always get the “small town girl/boy” protagonist dominating YA stands, but this always bugged me; if they have their own high school, or more people than cows, then I don’t see it as “small town” simply because of my own experience. I relate best to 6:1 cow-to-people communities. I want to read about them.

So I’m writing one.

It’s not my life. I am not Ingrid Fletcher. Her story isn’t mine. We share similarities and some characteristics, but if I wanted to write my own story I’d write an autiobiography or start a hardcore diary. I’m a bit of a bookworm. Ingrid is 100x the bookworm I am. Ingrid is 100x shyer than me. Her friendships are different, her opinions are different, her habits and flaws are different, her deepest darkest secrets are completely her own. I’m just helping her explain everything to the reader in the most accurate way I can, without, you know, going skydiving so that one scene is all the more genuine.

No sir. I am not going skydiving for Ingrid’s sake.

Do you incorporate aspects of your own life to your writing? Is your protagonist a slightly different version of you?

Somewhat random, but hey. So am I.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Short stories are my one night stands

Short stories were not normally something I could find enjoyment in or share a connection with. Often they appeared to have no meaning or leave me feeling confused about what had happened and why.

Short stories need to be quick and profound.

The tone and topic in which you write a short story should be, in my eyes, dozens of times more powerful than a piece of 80 000+ words. It might not have a plot line at all, but simply be describing something: an emotion, an event, a person, some nameless thing that the reader never even gets to identify with. Short stories are supposed to make you think, question aspects of life that were previously thought to be established or unsettle concepts that need to be unsettled again. Many short stories are 500 words of dialogue attached to a character in a specific moment in his or her life. I can read novels for that and get their whole story. Give me a short story. Make me think.

I used to hate writing short stories. I loathed it. I never understood how you could get a beginning, middle, and end in so few words. How can you get action? Romance? Villainy? Betrayal? You have only a few hundred, or a few thousand, words to use to portray these things that so often make or break a plot and draw readers in.

But I’ve written my fair share of short stories over the years, little blips of characters or scenes that had no place in a novel but found their way into my head nonetheless. I’ve come to love writing short stories. It’s a bit like having a string of lovers. I can love each one, learn a bit about them, have my way with them, and move along to the next without feeling guilty I abandoned them in pursuit of something new and interesting. I don’t worry about what’s going to happen to them 25 years from now. I don’t feel bad about what happens to them because, frankly, I don’t know them well enough to care that much. They’re one-night stands. Exciting, pleasurable, non-committal.

This meme is my favourite. I couldn't resist.
This meme is my favourite. I couldn’t resist.

In my recent anthology (of which you can buy a print copy by emailing me at libby.maire@gmail.com, or wait for the ebook edition later this season), I have a couple handfuls of short stories. I love them. They’re so fun. They’re dangerous. I can skip a beginning, an introduction to a cast. I don’t have to introduce anyone if I don’t want to. Anonymity is great. I can dive into the middle. The middle most likely isn’t the climax of the person’s life, or even their day, but it’s the middle of a moment that for whatever reason is worth writing about, and hopefully, reading.

My attention span isn’t the greatest. I get bored and distracted and look for something shiny to play with like a crow rooting through a pile of garbage. I’ve only completed one novel (I refuse to count the novel I wrote at age 13 because it’s shameful to read). I’m supposed to rewrite it within the year. It hasn’t happened yet, though I did do the majority of the outline. I started two novels this year. One made it to the 10 000 word mark and I’m still chipping away it — but slowly, slowly.

I just get so distracted. By books, by the internet, by writing short stories, by editing photos and reading blogs and sketching and sewing and and and —

See? I’m even distracted within this post.

But back to short stories.

I decided to start another anthology (to be released around this time next year if all goes well), this time a series of short stories all related to each other. I’ve written three of the pieces so far, and hope to write fifteen or so more. Fifteen more fleeting pleasures to be had. Fifteen more delicious and sinfully delightful one-night stands to experience.

Here I go, to a place where distraction can happen and loves abandoned. A world of short stories. A world of one-night stands.

I mean, it’ll get lonely after awhile. But I have my WIP novels. They are the strong relationships in my life, the ones that keep me together and challenge me, the ones I have to work out problems with. I can have fun with them, too, but…it doesn’t feel as naughty. 😉