I know we have all heard that you should not make yourself the main character in your novel. I agree (to a point—there are some good autobiographies out there, and it can be argued that Frankenstein is sort of Mary Shelley’s autobiography, but I digress….) But that isn’t what I am talking about.
I been thinking that every single one of our characters should have part of us, the authors, in them. (Okay, maybe not the unnamed peasants who only have two sentences of dialogue.) But I would like to think that every one of my active characters—protagonist, supporting characters, minor characters, and even your villain—should share a part of me.
So this is just my opinion, and I have no idea if established authors actually do this (I imagine that they do, though.) But this is what I feel makes my characters come alive to me.
When I say that every character should share a part of you, I don’t mean a physical characteristic—if fact, I think that most of your characters shouldn’t look anything like you. What I mean is that they share one emotional, spiritual, or social aspect of your personality.
For instance, my character, Raewas, is outgoing, loud, stupidly funny, and likes to be the center of attention. I am none of those things, but I have given myself one tie to Raewas. Both Raewas and I share this feeling that we are always pretending in front of other people, that we can never show our true selves, and that we have to hide who we really are. Now, I can use my experience to put meaning into Raewas’ actions and words. In a sense, this similarity makes me care more about Raewas and makes him more real. Before I did this Raewas was a boring character called Delsin whose only role was to bully Baehur.
Naturally, it is probably a good idea to give a different part of yourself to different characters. I mean, if all of your characters shared the same trait from you, then they would all begin to look the same. So while Raewas shares my social façade, Baehur shares my devotion and need to succeed, Arkeh shares my longing to hide my weaknesses and walk alone, and Mar shares my desire for freedom and independence.
I think this applied to our villains, too. I mean, what is scarier than seeing yourself as the bad guy? I think this becomes clear just by looking at our favorite villains. Loki has a need to be accepted and loved. Moriarty has this crazy brilliance and charisma which we want (and let’s be honest—we all wish that we could play a “game” like that with Sherlock Holmes.) My favorite Disney villain, Scar, wants to be recognized and to no longer be second best.
Our favorite villains are the ones that we see ourselves in.
There are two ways which I see to do this. First, you can take one of your strengths and twist it until it becomes evil. The best example I can see of this is in C. S. Lewis’ novel, Till We Have Faces. The sister, who in the original myth was the villain, loves Psyche more than anything, and it is this possessive love which brings Psyche into ruin.
The other way is to take some of our other traits, which we see as borderline dangerous, and magnify them until they are on villainous levels. I’m trying to do this with my three main villains. Ra’ Hazak has a desire for knowledge which he pursues to dangerous places, and he is afraid of death. Anarr just likes following the rules and wants to become the best, the strongest, and the smartest inside the system. My ultimate villain, Nakavar, is afraid of living in oblivion—he wants to be somebody and to be recognized. Nakavar doesn’t want to live in the shadows of other people anymore.
Maybe this is just my crazy idea, but I feel like my characters really come alive once I put a bit of myself into them. Of course, I don’t think you should make a character that is a true copy of yourself, but I think putting a bit of your personality or desires into every character can be good. Or at least, it has worked for me (or I think it has :p )
As humans, one of the biggest things that cause us to make friends with other people is sharing likes, dislikes, and experiences. Once we empathize with someone, we like them more, and they become more “real” to us. I think the same thing applies to our characters. We should be able to empathize with them, and the one way to do that is to share some trait with your character.
What do you guys think? Do you agree or disagree? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!
P.S. May the 4th be with you 😉 Happy Star Wars day!