Should You Create Characters After Yourself?

I’m sure you’ve heard the joke: be careful not to tick off a writer, she might turn you into a character and kill you. It’s pretty common for authors to create characters based on people they’ve run into in their daily lives. Maybe they borrow aspects from them (an interest, a talent, a job) and insert them into new characters in their books. But what about turning yourself into a character? Is it a good idea, or are you running the risk of making the book too personal?

Memoirs and biographies aside, writers generally try to create new characters for their books rather than inserting themselves or their own life stories into the pages. However, this trope can be pretty common in the fanfiction world. People fall in love with a movie or book and dream about wanting to live in a world with them, so suddenly author Jenna becomes Harriet in the book with possibly the same appearance, likes, and loves as the actual author, with some embellishments (maybe the character is prettier, more popular, etc). It comes as no surprise when she becomes best friends with the main characters. This is how Mary Sues and Gary Stu sometime come into existence.

Now, that’s not to say that a person’s life makes them a Mary Sue/Gary Stu, but it’s a common factor when someone puts themselves in a fanfic work. Long story short, “Mary Sue is a term used to describe a fictional character, usually female, who is seen as too perfect and almost boring for lack of flaws, originally written as an idealized version of an author in fanfiction” – Dictionary.com. Gary Stu is the male equivalent. These types of characters appear in non-fanfiction work as well (there have been arguments about whether Luke Skwalker or Rey are Mary/Gary). So if you decide to write yourself into your story, be careful to avoid these kinds of tropes. There are a ton of quizzes that you can take to find out if a character qualifies as a Mary Sue or Gary Stu.

Other ways people write themselves into stories is to make themselves a person that they want to be. Perhaps the author struggles with anxiety so he creates a powerful character who isn’t afraid of anything. Someone may feel like she’s not beautiful so she designs her character the mirror opposite. It’s a writer’s way of seeing themselves in a different or “better” light. While this isn’t inherently bad, it can still lead down the path of a cliche character.

When it comes to my own writing, none of my characters are exactly like me, but some of my personal traits do end up in some of my lovelies. That’s not to say that I’m trying to make myself into a character, it’s just both more meaningful and a little easier to write about someone who has had my experiences. For example, Tess from PDD and Wolf Pit, struggles with anxiety (maybe not to the level I do) and we take the same medication. She also loves musicals, especially Sweeney Todd (shout out to my dad who introduced it to me). Am I Tess? No. But I took some personal parts of myself and added them to the character. In the third PDD book (don’t worry, no spoilers), I’m developing a character named Evelyn who is obese 1. because we don’t have enough of those characters represented in books and 2. because it’s nice to see myself represented. Shen Yanlei, a new character in Wolf Pit, has a father who works at the Diamond Headache Clinic of Chicago. I chose that because I’ve been there for my own chronic migraines. Again, I take elements of myself and add them in, but I don’t make the characters completely like me. I think it’s fun to include those little easter eggs to see if people who know me catch it.

The danger of making a character after yourself is 1. you run the risk of making them too 1 dimensional like with Mary/Gary, and 2. if someone critiques your character, it  becomes a lot more personal. How many of us clutch our books to ourselves like our precious children when people tell us something’s wrong with them? It happens to everyone. Now imagine if you made someone after yourself entirely and a reader said the character was boring, unbelievable, or dumb. It’s hard enough not to take that personally as the author, but to have it said about you in your own book? Ouch.

So what do you do? What if you really want to put yourself in a book, is it really all that bad? As with every writing element, how you do it determines a good or bad outcome. Maybe only include some elements of yourself and make the rest unique. Use your own personal experiences that can add flavor to the story rather than taking it over. Write it for yourself personally with not intentions of publishing it (goodness knows I have plenty of tales that will never see the light of day). Practice with it and see if close friends or family can point out whether this character is like you or not. If you turn yourself into a character and that person is unique, has a purpose, and fleshed out, then maybe it isn’t a problem.

What about you? Do you write characters that resemble you? Do you think it’s a good or bad thing to do?

Let’s Talk About Fanfiction

I’m sure you’re probably already squirming in your seat at the title. Fanfiction? Bleh! Who wants to read that?

You’d be surprised.

Fanfiction, for those who don’t know, is literature created by a fan of a TV show, book, movie, comic, etc. Fans like to put their own spin on the stories, create different theories that might not necessarily be canon, or even insert themselves into the show/book through a personal character. These pieces are posted on sites like Fanfiction, Wattpad, Commaful, and more. Check out more places at The Ultimate Guide to Fanfiction and Fanfiction Sites by Joanna Smith.

So what’s the problem with it?

Well, there are many complaints about fanfiction including: “You’re just taking someone else’s writing and making it your own. That’s not real writing.” “Fanfiction writers don’t know how to write.” “Fanfiction writing is awful.” “The stories aren’t canon.” “Fanfic is just loaded with Mary Sue characters.” “The stories are sexist.” “The stories are too gay.”

I’m not going to argue with some of these. Yes, people are indeed taking a known world and making it their own. It’s true, sometimes the quality of writing isn’t very good. No, often the stories aren’t canon because people are coming up with their own theories. And yes, a lot of Mary Sue characters pop up randomly.

As for there being too many gay stories…sorry, folks, but I’m totally fine with that.

Fanfic writers are almost treated as badly as the people who like Pumpkin Spice flavored things in the fall. How DARE someone enjoy a movie/book (or flavor)! What’s the problem? If someone loves or is inspired by a story so much that they want to write about it, then why not let them? Allow them to enjoy the idea that they can see themselves in the world they love, or they can shift the elements around so certain characters are paired together, or forgotten characters get more screen/page time. It’s not hurting anyone. If you don’t like it, then you certainly don’t have to read it.

Now, I realize there’s a lot of really bad fanfiction out there (due to poor grammar, storytelling, character development, and unsavory themes). I’m not going to say every kind of fanfic is okay, especially not when it deals with things we find taboo even in books we read today (ie. graphic rape scenes, child pornography, under-aged sex stories, etc). But if you’re complaining about poor plot, writing, and character development, how do you think people learn to improve? By practicing and getting critique.

When I started out writing, I read a lot of Fanfiction and wrote some myself. Was all of it good? Oh, heck no, but the thing is, the stories other people created helped me fall in love with the world even more. I’m going to use Redwall by Brian Jacques for example. This book series was my bread and butter. When I couldn’t get enough of the published stories, I went online and read as many Redwall fanfics that I could find. One time, I stayed awake all night in my parents’ room because I had to find out what happened to these new beloved characters. My dad woke to get ready for work and found me staring, wide-eyed, at the screen. Did I get any sleep that night? Nope. Did I fall in love with characters, the Redwall world, and weep for fan-made characters? Oh, you better believe it.

Fanfiction also taught me how to adjust my writing. I learned, grammatically, what was right, and what was wrong. As I wrote my own stories, people would poke at holes in my plot or offer me advice (sometimes in the form of a trolly comment), which helped me rethink what I was writing and fix my story. I got to delve into a world I already loved, with characters I created (or borrowed), and I also learned more about writing along the way! Fanfiction also helped me meet friends and other writers.

Roleplaying through a Redwall site actually introduced me to my co-writer.

Now, there is the controversy about people writing fanfic and wanting to publish it. Actually, someone kind of did do that *coughE.L.Jamescough* but at least she changed the names and setting a bit. Personally, I don’t think people should publish fanfiction independently or traditionally as it is the creation of another author. However, I see no harm in sites providing ads or “tokens” that provide a little compensation to writers courtesy of their readers. That’s not too much different from someone running a patreon campaign and getting readers to pay a certain amount each month to get a sneak peak at a new fanfiction piece.

But I know this is something that’s heavily debated, so feel free to leave your opinion below.

When it comes to my own books like The Purple Door District,…write fanfic to your heart’s content. If my characters and world inspire you to create stories of your own, then you write them and share them with friends! Practice your craft. My goal as an author is to encourage others to write, even if it’s in the world I created. I’m not going to lie, I have checked a couple of fanfic sites just to see if anyone has had the inclination to write something based off of my book.

Let the fanfic writers enjoy the stories and create ones of their own. Long after the original author is gone, her legacy will still live on in her books, and in the stories that her fans created of her series. What an amazing way to be remembered.

I say, write on, fanfiction authors. Write on!

 

Wattpad: New Journey

I’ve been struggling to gain traction on my patreon account. So, I reached out to one of the many facebook writing groups I joined and asked what I can do to improve my process. 

Her suggestion? Wattpad. 

Gossamer

I’ve been struggling to gain traction on my patreon account. So, I reached out to one of the many facebook writing groups I joined and asked what I can do to improve my process.

Her suggestion? Wattpad.

For those of you who don’t know, Wattpad is basically a free writing site. Authors create stories that people can read, comment on, and vote for. Think of it like a fan fiction site, only a lot of the material on there is original.

That’s not to say you can’t write fan fiction though.

Authors can build an audience there by providing free writing. It’s an opportunity for you to meet other writers, modify and improve your writing, find beta readers, enter contests, etc.

Some people do have qualms about writing for “free,” and I completely respect that. You work really hard on your book. Why should you just give it away?

The thing is, if you’re interested in Indie publishing, Wattpad seems like a great way to get people interested in what you do. You can post things on the site, and if you decide you want to publish it, you can always leave a teaser chapter up for people and take the rest off. Just make sure you warn your readers, otherwise they may feel a little misguided.

Also, Wattpad has plans to introduce Wattpad Future where authors can insert ads between their chapters, and that will provide them revenue. It’s still in the beta testing period right now, but I hope it gets opened up to everyone soon. What a great way to support a writer without having to drop a dime!

I’ve only been on the site for about a week, but I have about 33 followers, and I’ve posted two stories. It gives me the opportunity to write little tales running around in my head and get feedback. I also get to play around with covers (like the Gossamer one above).

Keep in mind, though, that you have to work towards getting a following. You not only have to post material, you have to interact with the readers and other writers as well. As I get more used to Wattpad, I’ll write informational blog posts about it for anyone who is interested. You can seriously find just about anything on the website, so if you’re looking for good stories to read, take a look!

And feel free to follow me here: https://www.wattpad.com/user/erincasey09

Happy reading!