Let Your Characters Be Themselves

One of the most common mistakes made by beginning authors is to write wish fulfillment. It’s frequently where we all start out—I certainly did. Our main character frequently looks like ourselves, except better: thinner, prettier, no glasses… you get the idea. The character may have problems, but frequently solves them in some magical, relatively easy way, triumphing over all the things the writer has been unable to triumph over in her life. The character does little emotional suffering and is usually incapable of growth (two things by no means unconnected). This is writing like dreaming, casting yourself as the hero, saving the day, bringing all things to a successful conclusion with no downside and everyone clustering around you at the end and wishing they hadn’t misjudged you. This kind of character is called a Mary Sue, usually.

This kind of thing has its place, but as therapy and very basic beginning writing practice. If you read and write a lot, and are patient and willing to take yourself out of the picture, your characters will begin to flesh out and become themselves. Eventually they will surprise you, taking over and doing things you didn’t expect. Then the stories will begin to flow through you, rather than coming from you, and you will, in fact, find that you’re a writer after all.

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