Monday, January 26, 2015

Just Who is Your Main Character?

John raised some interesting points in his recent post when he talked about not using real people in books. I don't either, at least not consciously, though as I've written here in the past I did base a major character on someone I had met many years before, someone I'd completely forgotten about until something jogged my memory. I suspect there are more fragments of real people in my books than I realize.

The other thing he said that intrigued me was that he constantly has to tell people, 'No, I am not Jack Austin. No, my wife isn't Lisa Trembley.'

When you've written am extended series, people do tend to assume that you and your heroine are, to some extent, the same person. I was on a panel once where the chair decided that we were actually to come as our detectives, answering the questions in the way that he/she would. I commend it to you as an idea; it was great fun, but it was quite enlightening as well.

Working out how to present myself was a challenge as DI Marjory Fleming is nearly six feet tall, slim and athletic-looking, while I'm – well, not. But I did think to bring in half-a-dozen eggs for the chair from her flock of hens to, as WS Gilbert put it, lend verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative.

The most memorable question asked the country-loving farmer's wife 'Marjory' what did she think of her author? The reply was basically, couch potato, spends all her time with her nose in a book – often a cookery book,ugh – lives in a town of all dreadful places to live, has never been known to have a good yomp up a hill.

I wasn't allowed a reply, as me, but at the very least I would have expressed my contempt for her total lack of culinary skills since it has always seemed to me that if you can read, you can cook.& Oh, I forgot. She doesn't read either. No, I'm not Marjory Fleming.

But John raised the question of identity. Whose mind is it behind the character's thoughts, decisions, judgements, values – unless our own? In fact I suppose every character we create comes from some aspect of our own brain; where else could they come from? So are we the villain as well as the hero? Just a thought.


Anonymous said...

It can be hard to remember sometimes that the author is not also the main character. In my case, the author is often someone I want to be--e.g., she is braver than I, or smarter than I, or more adventurous than I, or she has a far more interesting past than I.

I have had people ask if I am the main character in my books. The answer is that there are times when the protagonist is more like me than I realized, but I don't do that consciously.

Great post!

Aline Templeton said...

Thanks very much. I think you're right - some of it is probably wish-fulfillment, like I would love to be tall, slim and athletic! The point, too, about not doing it consciously is interesting - I think so much of what we do when we're writing is subconscious.