My Characters are NOT Me!

The novel-in-progress is rolling along and the further I get into the first draft, the more I see just how far outside my personal comfort zone I’m getting. My characters are NOT me! Not only is the protagonist much younger and braver than I am now (or ever was), she approaches life with an obvious determination that can alienate, or attract, other characters.

When I was her age, I kept my ambitious side under wraps. It would leak out at odd times, so I’d go from painfully shy to auditioning for the school play in high school or participating in poetry readings in college.

Wendy, the character, is straight ahead sure-of-herself and doesn’t let anyone—not even her love interest—divert her from her goals. I wonder what kind of writer I’d be if I were as brave, certain and determined at 20.

As for the rest of the ‘cast of characters’ they are not me, either.

Yes, plenty of them are art-obsessed New Yorkers (the mystery takes place in and around the art scene), but they are ‘players’ while I’m more of a casual visitor, nibbling on the leftover bits after the big dogs have eaten. I go to the shows, I’m even a member of several museums, I’ve taken classes, attended lectures, even studied art history in college, but I’m an outsider in their world.

Right now, I’m helping my mom sell some of my late father’s art collection and the experience of dealing with galleries, auction houses and various experts, helps me add realistic color to the story. It’s dipping my toe into a world inhabited by wealthy art collectors and ambitious consultants, but not diving in.

My characters are diving in because it is their natural habitat. It’s fun to join them while I’m writing, but it’s not always comfy cozy. Any other writers have similar experiences?




  1. When I wrote the second of my books The Queen’s Envoy I had great fun. It was only later realised that this was who I wanted to be and since it was impossible, I wrote myself the part.
    I think it’s a little like when you speak to someone and afterwards think of the witty line you should have said. The character in the book is not you but at least you can imbue it with some of the things you wish were.
    That goes for baddies too. Some of the nicest people wish they had a darker side and how better to have one without offending in real life.
    If the protagonist is younger and braver than you it doesn’t mean it can’t be you, just the you that you wish you were at that moment.
    Anyway, using ourselves as characters means we know the person well and can apply all our concentration on the subsidiary ones.
    xxx Huge Hugs Candy xxx

    • Candy Korman

      That’s true! Dorothy Sayers created a character for Lord Peter Wimsey to fall in love with and based it on herself—because in him she created her perfect match. LOL!

      I think that Wendy, the protagonist, has certain traits I wish I’d had and that I that with many of my protagonists. I make them multilingual, more confident in social settings and sometimes simply taller than me. But that’s another story.

  2. I’ve rarely created characters that are not me in someway, which continues to make me wonder if nonfiction is a better choice for me. At times, I’ve conjured a character that is totally unlike myself and that does feel great, just wish I could tap into that more often.

    • Candy Korman

      That’s really interesting. I loved the characters in your short story collection and felt that they were fully-realized people. Perhaps nonfiction AND fiction that is drawn from life. Years ago when my late father started reading virtually all of fiction first, he sometimes said, “This doesn’t sound like you.” Of course it doesn’t the characters are not me. They are killing people, conning people, manipulating each other, etc.

      My dad, like you, wrote beautiful prose driven by his own personality and experiences. When he ventured far from his core, it was never as good. The story, which at one point became a play, about a man visited by the ghosts of his father & two uncles, was a re-imagining of my dad and his family. Just as his memoir of the family bakery was an extended happy memory. They were great. The historical western… um… I can’t even remember reading it.

  3. There’s a great philosophical question here – as we’re stuck inside our own heads and our own reality, is it ever possible to create a character that /isn’t/ like us in some way?

    When I was close to publishing Vokhtah I went through a real crisis of confidence. Would people think I was some kind of closet sociopath? Or some strange creature barely human? I literally felt like screaming, “that’s not me!”.

    But the truth is even my nastiest aliens were conceived by me so, of course, they were a part of me. We all have a darker side and writing allows bits and pieces of the devil inside to come out and play. 😀

    • Candy Korman

      Woo Hoo! Let’s invite our inner demons—along with our inner children—out to play!

      I’m still surprised when characters I create are evil beyond the scope of my day-to-day life and even beyond my nightmares.