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?