Those of you who know me probably know this. And those of you who don’t know me…well, now you know that too.
I’m not sure how this started. I suspect the groundwork for it has always been there, but doing theatre probably had a lot to do with bringing it to the surface. (Acting teachers seem fond of encouraging their students to notice specific behaviors in other people so that said behaviors can be used as acting tools.)
Whatever the cause, the point is that I spend a lot of time staring at people. Funnily enough, this has made me a rather observant person.I don’t mean that I’m some kind of Sherlock Holmes. I don’t pick up on tiny details and use those to try to deduce facts about a person. I just mean that I read other people well. I’m far from perfect, but I can usually tell by someone’s facial expressions and body language how s/he feels about a given situation–better than average, I think. And thanks to a lot of autodidactic interest in things like microexpressions, I’m even learning to become aware of more subtle expressions too–things that previously would have only registered on a subconscious level.
This is all part of who I am. It’s how I function in everyday life. And guess what kinds of characters I tend to write? I’ll give you a hint: they spend a lot of time watching people.
I first became aware of this fact when I happened upon a thread in the NaNoWriMo forums that was asking about personal tropes (i.e. recurring themes/character types in your writing). I didn’t post on the thread, but reading through it got me thinking about the kinds of things that show up in my writing a lot. (That’s a whole other story, and I’ll save it for later.) What I realized was that there are some intriguing trends in the sorts of characters I tend to write, and that they can be divided into two basic chunks–before high school, and after high school. So, in very broad terms:
Before HS: 100% female protagonists who were strong, intelligent, tomboyish girls who hated being underestimated by guys.
After HS: mostly male protagonists, many of whom are quiet, thoughtful, unassuming, and very, very observant. They tend to be counterbalanced by another character (nearly always female) who is smart, snarky, and energetic.
So what happened in high school to cause this shift? Honestly, I don’t know, because I did almost no creative writing in high school (hence why there’s this distinct before-after scenario). Maybe I developed a better insight into the male psyche due to having a long-term boyfriend. Maybe I got bored writing about girls and found that boys were interesting because they were different.
Or maybe *I* changed.
I don’t want to analyze it too much because that just gets weird, but that’s the strange bit to think about. While I might occasionally grant a character a bit of myself (e.g. a like or dislike), I never write characters with the intention of making them be like me. Still, when I look at those before/after sketches, I can see facets of myself in them, like looking into a fractured mirror.
Of course, I’m definitely not my protagonists, and it would be most unwise to try to psychoanalyze me based on my stories. I also very much agree with John Green’s thoughts on the matter as expressed in the first 30 seconds of this video. I would hate to have someone read my work and try to figure out what parts of the characters are me, because that’s really not the point. However, as a writer, it’s interesting to contemplate why certain traits might show up repeatedly in your babies. Is it a sort of psychological DNA that they share? Or a common psychological body language that they all “speak”? I’m not sure those are the types of questions that need an answer–maybe it’s better not to have one.
But it’s still interesting to think about. And just because you think/talk about it does not mean any of it is set in stone. Actually, my 2011 NaNovel will be an interesting experience because it’s a return to the sort of strong, no-nonsense girls I wrote before high school. We’ll see how that goes…
So, dear readers and raptors:
Do you see traits that show up in many of your characters?
Do you ever intentionally put bits of yourself into characters, or is it mostly unconscious?
Or do your characters not resemble you much at all?