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This question really comes down to a personal issue I've had present in my fiction. I'm still very new as far as being a writer is concerned. So a few (if not all) of my main characters seem to be based in part (or completely) on myself and my personal experiences. (With some obvious changes, such as a different background or a different personality, but I'll give them the same job or make them have similar thoughts to my own, or put them in a very similar situation to my own that turns fantastical in some way.)

My problem is that I have been criticized that being autobiographical in some (or any) way is almost as bad as writing a Mary Sue and I'm not sure if I agree with that assessment. So my question boils down to this: Is it bad form (generally accepted as "lazy writing") to consciously imbue your characters with bits and pieces of your own personality, experiences or thoughts? And if so, should I just be working harder with my Character Development?

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4 Answers 4

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If I can interpret "I'm still very new" as "writing my first novel", then skip this, go back to your story and keep writing. Ignore everyone telling you anything about how to write. Because all this good advice out there (like on this page) will be clearer after you've struggled through your first novel.

So, no, it is no problem if a main character is based on your personal experience. Honestly, on what else do you want to base it? He/she will have feelings and problems and you have to describe these feelings and problems, so you start with the feelings and problems you know and adapt and develop them.

Adapting and developing means, if your hero had to shoot someone and you've never done something like that, then you can describe him nonetheless. You felt sad and guilty sometime in your life, I'm sure. Just adapt and push these feelings a little bit.

So, yes, it is a problem if your main characters do not differentiate. If you believe in god and think god's laws should be followed strictly and every character in your book thinks so too, then it's just boring.

A fiction writer writes most of the time about things he has no clue about (rape, dragons, murder, drugs, alien invasions). Maybe you take drugs, but you never met an alien. Writers make up shit, so start doing that. Then your characters will vary.

And if you think you should just be working harder at being a writer, then the answer is: Yes!

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Decided on this answer because it answers the meat of the question and reminds me that the best advice I can take is, "Quit taking advice and get back to writing." – QuestionMarcs Oct 28 '12 at 18:09
+1 Very inspiring! – Vorac Oct 30 '12 at 8:10

The author of "Kick Ass" said that every major character in the story was partially autobiographical, including the hero and villain, in that either at some point in his life he wanted to be that character or felt that he had a lot in common with that character. Every major character in his story is distinct. None are Mary Sue. Why not? he took a ridiculous premise to it's logical conclusion: incompetent kid decides he is going to be a superhero, so he gets beat almost to death. The true problem is not being fantasy-autobiographical but the tendency towards unmitigated wish fulfillment. You need conflict, consequences and catastrophe. If you write a happy ending your character has to work for it. This is why writing romance is hard, because in romance you always have a happy ending.

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In my own fiction, I'm "autobiographical" with ONE of the main characters. That's the best way for me to keep track of everything that's going on.

Sometimes, my character is the protagonist, and he speaks for me.

Sometimes my character is the antagonist, with the protagonist being my "date." (Trying to see yourself through the eyes of your dates is quite an exercise in and of itself.)

And in one case, I'm the heroine's grandfather, not exactly a "main" character, but close enough to "know" (and shape) my character.

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The answer is both, to some degree.

Yes, you should always be working harder on your character development. Particularly if you're a beginning writer, you can always work harder on everything, but developed writers have to work at it too.

Making all your characters yourself with minor differences is a problem for a few reasons:

  1. You can't tell them apart. When Jon sounds exactly like Malcolm who sounds exactly like Kathryn, there isn't much flavor to the interactions.
  2. There's not much conflict. If everyone agrees that throwing an empty cup out the car window is littering, you don't have any conflict, and conflict is what drives story (or plot).
  3. It's hard to have a hero and a villain if they act like the same person and they have the same reactions. Hell, it's hard to have several heroes if they all have the same reactions to events.

Having said that, it's fine if some of your characters have some of your traits, and as John Smithers pointed out, you can't ever really escape your own head. If you want to create someone who has a very different life and opinions than you do, you will have to research the situation, maybe do interviews, maybe travel, to learn what that life or opinions are like so you can describe them from the inside.

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Hm. I'm not sure which of the current answers I would mark. Each makes good points and gives good advice, I guess I should not have asked two different questions. – QuestionMarcs Oct 28 '12 at 18:03

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