THE BLOG

Are Authors Anything Like the Characters They Write?

05/06/2015 06:56 pm ET | Updated May 06, 2016
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"Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. This is a work of fiction and are either products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner."

Legally every published book should have the above proviso. Every fiction writer I know is happy to have the statement included on the first page of his or her book. It's as much a protection for the author as the copyright and ISBN number. Now that being said, if we're at all truthful with ourselves, authors know that many times parts of a character in our stories are based on someone we have known or have met. Ninety five percent of the time the resemblance actually is coincidental. The character quirk or physical description of someone is already in the back of the writer's mind and fits a certain character in the story.

Basing certain traits on an actual person, living or dead, is one thing but the question most authors of fiction get asked by readers is, "Is the main character in your stories anything at all like you?" I'd have to say that it is true for many writers. We may be creating fictional stories but the fictional characters in them have more than a bit of the creator.

Besides writing other best-sellers such as the Delilah Street series and the Irene Adler series, author Carole Nelson Douglas is also famous for her Midnight Louie books where her main character, Temple Barr, owns a black cat with highly-tuned detective skills. Carole Nelson Douglas is a cat lover and has had many "Midnight Louies" in her life. That characteristic of hers is shown in the fictional owner of the literary Midnight Louie.

Sara Paretsky writes the highly successful V.I. Warshawski series. While both Paretsky and Warshawski share the same heritage and Chicago, (Paretsky graduated from the University of Chicago and her character lives and works there), V.I. also has many of her creator's traits and strengths as a woman and the same tastes in food and liquor.

The masters of fiction have used their own characteristics and personality traits to guide their stories. Stephen King has always infused many of his own fears into the characters populating his excellent literary collection. His fears include spiders, snakes, the elevator in his hotel room and death, all themes in his books.

Anne Rice has said that her character Lestat in her famous Vampire Chronicles, was largely based on her husband, the poet and artist Stan Rice, sharing his blond hair and birth date of November 7th. Rice also noted that the character Lestat had also taken on some of her own personal attributes.

Ernest Hemingway wrote about his life through the eyes of his alter ego Nick Adams, in 24 pieces of fiction. Basically every story Hemingway wrote came from experience.

Ethnicity and race are also strong components of an author's characters as shown in the award-winning books of Amy Tan, Alice Walker, and Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. Their characters reflect their lives and their own backgrounds.

Sometimes the characters we create are an alter ego that is a part of us that we don't show on a daily basis. Every character I've written has something of me that is evident in them. The sarcasm of Teddy Jameson in Welcome to Hell is a part of me that doesn't appear in "real life" yet it is him speaking through me. The main character in the Cate Harlow Private Investigation series has many of my own attributes, including a lifetime passion for tennis and a need to solve problems. As with all authors, there's a bit of me in all my characters.

Fantasy writers put a lot of themselves in their stories, a sort of living life vicariously through characters and situations that they control. Think J.K. Rowling and Ursula Le Guin.

There's always a piece of an author in each character. You get to create your own world; it's only natural that the characters you choose to populate that world have a more than passing resemblance to you.

Kristen Houghton is the author of 6 top-selling books including the PI series A Cate Harlow Private Investigation. The first in the series FOR I HAVE SINNED is available where all books are sold.
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