Do we write who we want to be?

A friend of mine, Jo, was at a talk by author (and then current Sargeson Fellow) James George last year and he commented many authors writing their first novels have the protagonist doing what the author would actually like to be doing in their own lives. Jo, by the way, is also known as The Naked Writer, and regularly bares all in the world of romance and writing for her monthly Heart To Heart column. She’s also a damn fine journalist, as you’ll know if you’ve been lucky enough to read any of her articles. Jo posted this interesting observation to our writer’s loop and invited comments. She knows I write fantasies and paranormals so she asked me whether the same was true for me – maybe I give the impression of living in la-la land, I don’t know, but I did actually venture out of lurkdom to respond.

I’d like to share my response because it really is such an interesting question: Do we write who we want to be?

Quote: “I can’t say I really modeled my first heroine, Hope, on me or what I’d like to be doing at all. In ‘The Seer’ she’s blind, all her family are dead, she’s suffering survivor’s guilt and then she’s plucked from Earth and set down in another far more primitive world of capricious Gods and magic. Worse, she’s developing all these magical powers that she can’t control and she’s expected to save an entire race of people from the Big Bad… Thank goodness, she doesn’t really have anything at all in common with me – well, alright, except maybe for a real stubborn streak! – but she does have a penchant for yoga and meditation, which I was doing at the time. And although occasionally, my feelings about various topics would pop out of the mouth of either Hope or one of my other characters, none of them really represented ‘me’. It was more sort of a social commentary of however I felt about a particular topic at the time. Same with the middle and last book of that trilogy: subsequent characters were just about as far removed from my own experiences as they could possibly be.

I think the entire basis for the characters and the world I created was my fertile imagination – end of story. The trilogy spans decades and generations… it’s that whole fantasy aspect that allows me to do that. So poor old Hope was put through the ringer and fate kept dealing her harsh blows until the final book of the trilogy, when she finally has her happy ending. Of sorts. If she doesn’t count the people she’s lost along the way. Life can be like that, I know, and although I’ve not personally experienced a lot of what she goes through, I wanted her story to be a journey to discover just how strong and capable she really was. She’s forced to sacrifice everything she loves but finally triumphs in the end… Please God, I never have to endure what she does!

Different story altogether with my paranormal ‘Chalcedony’s Wulf’, last year’s Clendon entry. And maybe the difference is because it’s written in 1st person, so an awful lot of me came out in her. Although I obviously look nothing like Chalcedony (she’s tall, slim, nice set of boobs, great hair…sigh!) she’s ‘me’ in that she’s sarcastic, sharp-tongued, stubborn and she
swears a lot. She’s also a romantic. Oh, and she’s a Latin Dance teacher trying to set up her own studio, something I felt qualified to write about, since I was a Ceroc Dance teacher for five years and ran my own franchise down in Wellington for 2 ½ years. And the whole Crystal Warriors premise is dear to my heart because I own a few crystals myself, have dabbled in using them for healing at various times and my daughter vehemently believes in their power and is an avid collector.

I found it so easy to ‘get inside’ Chalcey’s head that she really just wrote herself. I’m told I found my ‘voice’ in this book, and certainly the writing style seems remarkably different from The Seer. Chalcedony’s story spans only four weeks and it’s a pretty intense four weeks! I always knew she’d get the guy, though, even though she thought she’d lost him right until the end. Sigh… how romantic!

The heroine of the next book in the series is dealing with self-esteem issues because of her weight – something I’ve also experienced. I only needed to hearken back to that period of my life and write about my own feelings to bring this heroine to life. And I thought it’d be interesting to ‘bond’ her with the most gorgeous Crystal Warrior of the lot – a man who’s
only had to crook his finger to have women throwing themselves at him. She’s got a lot to learn that true beauty comes from within – and so does her hero. Funnily enough, he learns that lesson first and she’s just not buying that he’s interested in her. Is there some me in that? Probably. Never could understand what my husband saw in me !

Does that sort of answer your question, Jo? Or am I making no sense whatsoever? Oh well, I seem to remember you once said you reckoned us Fantasy and Paranormal writers were a bit strange… and it’s true, LOL!

Basically I think I just have an extremely fertile imagination and it’s probably just as well I don’t aspire to live like my heroines or my poor husband would be in dire straights! He’d have a choice of being married to someone who conversed with Gods, struggled to control her magical powers, could travel between worlds, had an annoying habit of sacrificing herself to save others – even at the cost of those she loved – and lived for centuries, OR couldn’t help being attracted to sexy leather-clad warriors from other worlds bent on seducing her… Eeek! And with that, I think I’ll stick to my
nice, quiet, relatively uncomplicated little life.” Unquote.

Reading this post again, re-reading those mss I’d written and thinking of the three other mss I’ve written since, I now think there was more of me in my first ever heroine than I thought! Funny that.

I love the fantasy or paranormal element and all my mss so far reflect that love. However, whether I’m writing in 1st person POV or 3rd, whether I’m writing from my female protagonist’s POV or my male protagonist’s, whether I’m writing about an Elemental who feeds from the energy created by lightning or a man who exudes sexual pheromones which make him irresistible to women, there’s always some portion of ‘me’ in how my characters think, how they speak, react and interact. I’m inside their heads and they’re inside mine. Ack! Maybe I do really live in la-la land, after all? Second thoughts, nah: that’s just normal stuff for a writer – any writer. Ask our families and friends and they’ll tell you: we’re all a teensy bit strange.




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One Response to “Do we write who we want to be?”

  1. Jo says:

    Good post, Maree. Most of my heroines have my faults (or what I perceive as my faults, they’re probably not faults at all) and I think are pretty much like me. My first heroine was a journalist with a trendy magazine who wrote about the rock bands, which is what I’d have given my eye teeth to do way back then as I really wanted to work on a magazine full time and interview rock stars…..
    And you have definitely got a much more fertile imagination than me.