Sunday, May 17, 2009

At the Schizophrenic's Ball

Bear with me.
I had the pleasure of spending all day yesterday at a local writer's convention. The event was well planned, the workshops ripe with valuable information, and the presenters highly professional and entertaining.
Were it not for the fact that I was nursing the final death throes of a nasty cold, the day might have been easily labeled, flawless.

By far the best part of the experience, however, was meeting the other attendees, all writers, all either interested in publication or already there. Enchanting.
Throughout the day, as I met more and more individuals, and as we discussed the classes, the event and the hilarious keynote speaker, the conversation always, inevitably, turned this way:

"So, what sort of writing do you do?" or, more commonly, "What are you working on?"

Now, despite a wide representation of genres, styles, subjects and individual preferences, something about the various answers stood out. There was a pattern here, and it had to do with Characters.
I noticed immediately, that whomever I spoke to, inevitably spoke of their protagonist in reference to themselves. "My main character is a nurse, about my age," or "My hero is a pilot, like me," or "My space cowboy is about my height...weight...coloring."


I already knew that a lot of characters are, in some way, autobiographical. In fact, an author who can bring a protagonist to life that is completely separate from their own life/experience has some real talent. But here, surrounded by writers, the reality of the author-as-character scenario really struck me.

My next thought, of course, was: but we write so many different characters??? And I immediately began to relate this concept to my own work where I found, alas, that my stable of heroines all, most definitely, represent...well, myself.
In one of my stories, I'll be damned if I'm not in there twice!

Now, because they're all different enough to make me pause and consider psychotherapy, I'm wondering if I don't, in fact, have some rare form of multiple personality disorder. Or maybe, if all these characters are reflections of one facet of the author or another, it just proves how bloody complex a person, a real person, actually is. If so, how can one ever write a truly rounded, three dimensional, living, breathing, protagonist?

Or maybe, it's that universal fragment of the author, that facet of a total person, that speaks to the reader. Maybe our protagonists are in some way like myths--archetypical, symbolic, 'almost' completely human. Then again, we could be drawn to write because we are a touch fractured, maybe the act of writing is a form of therapy in itself.

Any way you look at it though, whether we're on to something, or just slightly loopy, we're in good company. Some things are universal. Like writing book proposals...turns out everyone hates them.

I knew it.

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