Still where you are

By JCrawford Writing Tips 5 Comments on Still where you are

Good (insert time of day)!

I’m back, and here’s another side of “Begin where you are”.

Disclaimer: this is as much a tool for building a story as it is an exercise in writing.

As an aspiring writer, whether your genre is fiction or non-fiction, the question that can leave you spinning like a rudderless yacht is, “What am I going to write about?”

Like I said in my last post, “Begin where you are.” The first and most useful character you have at your disposal is the person sitting in front of a computer and reading this post: YOU.

Don’t tell me you’re scoffing. Going to tell me that it won’t get you anywhere, or that “real” authors don’t fictionalize themselves? Right.

Let me drop three big names on you—at least they’re big in the USA—as examples.

#1. CJ Cherryh, science fiction author. If you’ve read her “Foreigner” series, no matter which arc you choose, you’ll run into Ilisidi, Tabini-aji’s grandmother. Notice how Ilisidi is always moving things along? Yeah. Ilisidi is the author’s avatar in the stories. How do I know? I had lunch with her many years ago and asked her point-blank. I wish I could show you the wicked smile she gave me.

#2. Laurell K. Hamilton, urban fantasy author. If you don’t understand that the Anita Blake character is a fictionalized version of her, you’ve never met the woman. I haven’t had the chance to ask her in person, yet, but I don’t think she’d deny it. I wouldn’t believe her anyway.

#3. Jim Butcher, fantasy author. Harry Dresden. Do I need to say more?

I’ll go so far as to give you a fourth example: me. I may not be a big name, but this is the bald, unvarnished truth. The main character of my first two novels, Frank Stewart, is a very loose fictionalization of myself. We’ve got a lot of overlapping interests, personality quirks, and our “voice” is the same. A difference: In real life, I’m not attracted to blond women with tattoos… nor am I in amazing physical shape, or a “soul patch” fancier.

Writing about yourself, autobiographically or fictionalized, is a great way to get the ball rolling. You know your story better than anyone, and can use words and descriptions that actually reflect your feelings. There’s an immense amount of power in that, regardless of genre.

It is also, from a fiction perspective, a hell of a lot of fun. Did you play “pretend” as a child? This gives you a license to do it again, bigger and better than ever. It can also make the process of creating a sympathetic and engaging main character simpler. You don’t need to spend hours fretting over their motivations or decisions: you already know why you would do this or react in that way.

Begin where you are. Everything begins and ends with you.

Play with words, stories, and concepts. Grab one by the noodles and push it until it breaks.

-James Crawford, Blood-soaked and Writing


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  • I am a writing MACHINE! | James Crawford's Writing Blog
    Posted on June 14, 2012 at 11:32 am

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  • EditorProofer
    Posted on June 14, 2012 at 11:52 am

    So true. In real life I’m the shy person who comes up with something great to say 10 minutes after the conversation ends, so when I fictionalise myself in a story my character is mostly like me but does and says all the things I *wish* I was brave enough to do or say.

    Living vicariously through your characters is a good way to let off steam! LOL

  • Damien
    Posted on June 14, 2012 at 12:58 pm

    Hmm it is true for us newbies to base the main character more so on ourselves as it’s easier to describe ‘us’

  • Dave R
    Posted on June 14, 2012 at 11:27 pm

    My here Brian Wyatt isn’t me, but he feels the way I do about things. I’m a little more hopeful. Thanks for the thoughts. I would guess you are at least 85% right on Laurell. When I went to a book signing, I got this impression too.

  • Jane Isaac
    Posted on June 16, 2012 at 5:35 am

    Hi James!

    I’m really enjoying your posts and your advice is so true – write about what you know.

    I guess there are elements of me in some of my characters, but they are also made up of fragments of friends, acquaintances, other people I meet and my own imagination.

    Building characters is such fun. Some of my friends have noticed traits of themselves within a few of my characters which I really like too.

    Thanks for sharing:)

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