Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Wishful Thinking


The Greek Actor's Daughter,
Elihu Vedder,
oil on canvas, 1875.

The Mary/Gary Sue's of yesterday are castigated in part because they represent a projection, a wish fullfillment, of the writer's dreams and desires.

Unless the product is impossibly idealized and generalized, I don't see anything particularly wrong with that enhancement, on the whole, because we are also advised to write what you know.

I make my heroines much quicker to analyze and act than I am, for example - solutions/possiblities occur to them immediately - not three days later when scooping dog squat.

Quite apart from the imperatives of pacing - that's definitely wish-fullfillment.

And if s/he incorporates some augmentation of a writer's personality - rather than the writer picking attributes from the hero's catalogue - such projections and extensions seem guaranteed to produce a more individual main character.

As we are often acutely aware of admirable qualities we may lack, we may have given them considerable thought. So that sort of model projection might not be superficial either.

Self-insertion is never automatically a bad thing in character creation.

29 comments:

kmfrontain said...

LOL @ scooping dog squat. My characters all think faster than me, too.

Jeannie said...

Funny - I began an attempt to write years ago but gave it up because it was just too obvious that the main character was my wish fulfillment and it was frankly embarrassing. Not to mention probably very bad. I had no clue how to get past it so I quit.

I notice that most heros/heroines seem to analyze and act quicker than the rest of us. Where would James Bond be without that skill? or House for that matter?

Bernita said...

Karen!
I find that doggie bags do keep the skunks and racoons from ripping open my garbage.

Jeannie, don't think extensions of the writer's psyche are necessarily bad.
In a professional, the skill comes from training.
I always admire the "ordinary" character to whom some action/attitude/talent is instinctive.

kmfrontain said...

Fast thinkers exist. I regained my faith in their existence when I married my husband. ;-) Man is a quick draw for a comeback remark, something I never was. Because of him, I feel just fine about creating fast thinkers in my stories.

Steve G said...

My main character in Death Mask is a big guy, a foot taller than me. He is from a farm and not slow, but not the quickest. I'm from the city and a little smarter than he is. What does that tell me? I'm not sure.

Bernita said...

Exactly, Karen.
And there are people in whom the action switch is always "on" regarding physical threats as well as verbal ripostes.
Perhaps it's because they have thought out the appropriate response and imagined scenarios in advance, perhaps not, but they do exist.
Even I have risen to the occasion - on occasion.

Bernita said...

Perhaps that you distrust the instant action response as a potential frying pan/fire, Steve.
Could be many thing - and none of them "bad."

Jaye Wells said...

I wrote a character once who was sarcastic, argumentative, great with come-backs and damned funny. My mother said, "She's your alter-ego." My best friend said, "She's you!"

Interesting.

spyscribbler said...

So true! If we can't live more interesting lives through our characters, then what's the point of a story, LOL?

Bernita said...

You have great "voice," Jaye.No reason why you should stint your character.
I just assume you tone it down for your mother, which is why she said "altar ego."

And true for readers as well as writers, Natasha.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

In analyzing a problem, the character could take as much time as we normal peopledo by shifting the "time" in the next or subsequent sections to days or weeks later...that's the part I like about creating a story...It can fly or crawl at the pace that I choose!

Bernita said...

Yes, Bonnie, "instant" solutions are not always necessary and one is free to manipulate the time line.

December/Stacia said...

I think it's impossible to create a character without using a bit of yourself...because deep down, people are fairly similar. I might hate eggs and you like them, but we all want the same things when it comes down to it.

And my characters are always quicker than me, too, and rarely embarrass themselves the way I do. :-)

Sam said...

I can't stand Mary Sue characters. Sookie Sackhouse just got on my nerves after a while. The 'Everyone Loves Sookie' syndrome made me give up on that series. A pity, because I really loved the writing. I've switched over to Ms. Harris's other books and doing better. But the Mary Sue Sookie ruined that series for me. (And yet another example of how everyone's tastes are different!)

Bernita said...

I tend to elide some of my less attractive characteristics too, December, or provide a more pleasing explanation for them.

I'm dim enough at times in real life, Sam, so I don't care to read idiot heroines. I don't find them endearing at all. I prefer to look up, not down.

raine said...

A curious bunch of people, these writers are... :-)

I remember blogging once about how I was writing a story that featured a sociopath, well on his way to becoming a serial killer--and that he was becoming so well-drawn, so REAL, it was beginning to disturb me. After all, if I could do such a creature such justice, what did that say about me??

It simply said this character was an extension of myself, more or less, like any other character.
As is the fabled Mary Sue.

I don't think of it so much as 'wish-fulfillment', but as a fictionalized development of self (if that makes any sense).
My characters are often wittier, prettier, more stable than I am--but sometimes they're not as quick to catch on, or they've failed to deal with issues that hold them back, etc. But they're all part of the writer.

And you can tell the characters who are NOT drawn from the author's bit of conscious or unconscious 'self-insertion', I think. They don't ring true.

writtenwyrdd said...

The 'sin' seems to be when you do like many quasi-biographers do: That is to say, stick to closely to the actual facts for good fiction. Take the useful bits, the meaningful bits, the dramatic bits and fictionalize.

Bernita said...

And by "extensions," Raine, I think we can define a quality called empathy. A logical understanding of the twists and turns which may progress in the human psyche. "a fictionalized development of self" is a good way to describe it.

"Take the useful bits, the meaningful bits, the dramatic bits and fictionalize."
Now that, Written, is both good advice and a good defence.

Charles Gramlich said...

I don't know how you avoid self assertion really. My charactes all have things in common with me.

Bernita said...

I don't know either, Charles, because we drawn on our knowledge to provide veracity.

takoda said...

Interesting reading. My main characters are in the 10-12 year old range. I'm trying not to 'use' my children for material, but I can't help it.

I just hope they don't want any royalties if I ever get published!

Cheers,

Bernita said...

You could always claim you were using your own childhood, Takoda, and they just remind you of it.

Jon M said...

My characters tend to be 12 -13 too and I often draw from my own memories rather than those of my kids. Needless to say my protagonists aren't often 'perfect.'

Nice picture...'She was only the Greek Actor's Daughter...' sounds like a cue for an old music hall song! :-)

Bernita said...

Who was, Jon?
Does, doesn't it.

Jon M said...

I did try to continue the music hall ditty with some reference to urns but then my resolve crumbled!!!

Scott from Oregon said...

I used to work for a pianist who performed maybe 40 gigs a year on tour with a mega band.

On the other days, he used to sit at home and play the piano.

The point being, he practiced far more than he performed for an audience.

I think it would do every writer much good to create a character EXACTLY like themselves and set them adrift all manner of circumstances for two purposes. One, just to get some needed practice in. I mean, if you can't describe yourself... yeesh...

The second purpose would be to get the desire plumb out of your system. I think once you've written you enough times, you'd be sick of the character and would want to move on to your inlaws, or workmates, or... perhaps someone intriguing...

LadyBronco said...

I also believe that using some of your own attributes - be they good or bad - for one of your characters is a very natural hing to do.

How could you ever hope to mold a believable character without drawing on some of your own traits and characteristics - or wish fulfillment if your character's reactions are polar opposite to your own.

ORION said...

Hmmm how will I respond? My MC is a man who is mentally challenged. I guess I will have to say that I wish I could slow down and listen like Perry.

Bernita said...

One thing that irritates me increasingly, Scott, is writers as main characters in a work of fiction!

I agree, Lady B.- as long as it doesn't stray into a self-indulgent memoir.

Perry is also a very kind person, Pat...