I.N. Spire Official

Character

Jun
22

Throughout my education, both formal and informal, I have been told that authors write what they know. But where does that knowledge come from? Do we merely build situations and characters from our life experience? Do the heroes of our stories merely reflect pieces of the people that have touched us?

I don’t think so. Our life is more than just the people we meet or the choices we make. Like Wilde said, “Life imitates art.” And while he may have been saying this satirically or even ironically, it is true. How many awkward, nerdy teens pick up characteristics from their favorite superheroes or from the protagonists of their favorite fantasy novel? I know I have certainly picked up some personality traits. I learned my patience from books, as well as my curiosity at the world around me.

But that being said, every hero is different, no matter the story, because in truth, we do add elements of ourselves and others. Some heroes are entirely based on either the author’s vision of himself, or how he wishes he could be. Others are complete characterizations of our role models or family members.

In my own writing, I find it difficult to base a character off who I am or who I want to be. This is predominantly because I don’t like feeling vulnerable by letting strangers glimpse into such intimate details of my life.

But writing books is about being vulnerable, so I persist.

My heroes tend to be an amalgamation of sorts. Maybe I like how Kvothe is so sure of himself, almost cocky. Then to balance it out, I’ll add a piece of my own insecurities. Then there needs to come his life experiences. A good hero suffers, or has suffered greatly in his story. Suffering and pain give us something to rise above and beyond and give us a purpose.

And we have all suffered in some way throughout our lives, that is what draws us to our various genres of fiction or non-fiction. The #metoo movement has shown that a lot of people are finally coming to terms with and finding the strength to admit to suffering they endured in their past at the hands of people they should have been able to trust. And there are more out there, some who have suffered with depression or anxiety, PTSD, loneliness, fear, self-doubt, and the list goes on.

Regardless of anyone else’s opinions on the matter, all humanity has suffered at some point or another. And nobody can take that away from you. Just because children are starving in Africa doesn’t lessen the pain of sexual abuse. And just because someone is suffering domestic abuse from a partner doesn’t lessen your crippling depression, or sense of being alone.

Suffering is relative, and it is not the only thing we all have in common. We all have the ability to rise from the ashes and climb higher, some on our own, and some of us need help.

But the best thing an artist can do is find an outlet to channel all the leftover pain and guilt from the pains in their life and put pen to paper, or brush to canvas. All art is therapeutic and essential to a balanced mind. As a writer, we develop characters and elicit emotions from readers so that they can sympathize with us, even if they don’t know that they are sharing our personal suffering. In novels, much as in life, the pain we experience makes the joys we experience that much sweeter.

What characters do you feel the most connection to? What fictional world is your favorite escape?

2 Responses to Character

  1. Our life experiences to change how we view things though. People can read Name of the Wind and thing Kvothe is cocky, and things always seem to work out. However, when I read it, I see an extremely bright kid whose search for knowledge, accompanied by his many failures along the way, gave him the information he needed to do the right thing when the situation arose. Life experience is why you should read the Chronicles of Narnia at 3 different stages of our lives, as we would get 3 different messages. Our life experiences shape us, and as you say-it’s all relative. When we start to discount other people’s sufferings or experiences, we draw the strings of discord. This is what can make books and graphic novels so fantastic! They can draw people in with their commonality, or superheroes unit to save the world. But how does Captain America and Black Panther unite? Some will be quick to point out they unite to fight a great foe; but those who read deeper will see they unite because they do not discount the other’s experiences. They find their common ground.

    Books unite, both good and bad alike. Even though Stan Lee never meant for this to become such a fulcrum, “with great power comes great responsibility.” Do not be afraid to open yourself up into your books. By being vulnerable, you empower others to do the same. You have a great story to tell; be bold-tell it! Free yourself, and free others (just makes sure you’re not feeding gremlins after midnight).

    • Great answer, Tank! Like Rothfuss said, we are all more than just a sum of our parts. (Paraphrasing here). He also said that we all become what we pretend to be (Again, paraphrasing.)

      We can learn something from so many places, and that is what allows us to make good characters. We learn from our experiences, others’ experiences, and even the experiences of fictional characters. These things we learn aren’t limited to developing characters in a story, either, because we can use them to develop ourselves as well.

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