Wednesday, January 5, 2011

It’s Not Really You, It Only Looks Like You

I’ve been wrestling with my hero for months.  It’s not that he’s one of those unruly heroes who doesn’t do as I ask.  It’s that I couldn’t SEE how he should act.  Honestly, he was just coming off as the regular arrogant, high-handed alpha.  And I wasn’t feeling him.  At all.

Then, last month, right before Christmas, as if by way of holiday present from above, he suddenly came to me clear as day.  I started writing snap shots of him, seeing things he was saying.  The calculating yet still charming look in his eye.  All charisma and intelligent manipulation delivered with a smooth smile.

He fits my heroine.  She’s been through a lot, has lost the fun and thirst for adventure in her life.  With good reason.  And my hero, well, let’s just say he grabs each experience by the throat, he relishes a good challenge, and he accomplishes it all with a devilish smile and wry wit.  He’s the perfect match for her.

I went Voila!  I won’t lie, I danced about a bit.  I smiled like a fool in the grocery store check out.

Then I realized that he reminded me a lot of my father.

Yeah, creeped me out too.

My self image took a tale spin.  What did this mean about my relationship with my father?  Did I have some dreaded “Latent Daddy Issues?”  Should I call a shrink, SOS?  Was there a need for me to contact Dr. Phil?

I paused in all the panic and took a look at myself.  I’m a happily married mom with two seemingly normal children and plenty of healthy relationships and loving friends.  I have close relationships with my family, have developed close relationship with my hubby’s family.  I seemed to be just fine.  I’m a pretty happy person, relatively optimistic and resilient, and on most days, I consider myself incredibly lucky.

In short, I didn’t think I was in need of immediate psychological care.

So, what’s with dear old Dad showing up in my hero’s slot and squicking me out?

I thought about it some in the midst of the holiday chaos and I realize my dad was a bit of a hero.  A Vietnam veteran, he had a toughness about him that said he saw some stuff that wasn’t nice.  But he was still one of the most positive people I’ve ever met.  He faced the world head on, didn’t shirk.  The man always had a plan, was an entrepreneur through and through.   He was loyal to those he loved and would have destroyed anyone who thought they could hurt me.

He had his flaws.  I won’t innumerate them here, on the internet, as he’s gone and I preferred to harass him while he was still here.  No, he wasn’t perfect.  But those things above?  They seem pretty heroic to me now.  Why shouldn’t my hero be like that?

Honestly, I realize my hero isn’t exactly like my Dad.  He just has some of his characteristics.  But I’ve got to give my father the credit.  If I hadn’t known him, I probably wouldn’t have thought to put those characteristics together in quite that way.

Do you think it’s okay to base characters after people you know?  Have you done it before?  If not or if so, why?  Do you think this is some sign of crazy psychological issues (as if you needed further questioning that I’m a little nuts)? You know….  Wait.  Don’t answer that one.  I’m not sure I want to know.


2nd Chance said...

Well, as long as you don't name them the same name, give them the same physical characteristics, use the opportunity to cast yourself as the heroine and... well, that would be Daddy issues!

I don't think it's something a writer can help doing...wait, did I negate what I was trying to say? Uh...I don't think you can stop from doing it.

Writers are observant people, even when we don't seem to be. (I'm totally oblivious to what is going on around me, but then I'll be writing and realize I saw this manerism, or heard this phrase. Of course, with my waste of a memory, I don't recall where I saw it...)

Perhaps you're ability to recognize that your father, despite the flaws, was a hero you could write just part of growing up. Just like when we suddenly KNOW our parents are perfect, it's part of the learning curver.

Because they aren't perfect but we still love them, so that means we don't have to be perfect to be loved. Nor does anyone else...

Any help?

Donna said...

Marn, I think this is perfectly normal. We gather everything around us and mix it up and re-form it for our stories. The stuff we can't find, we make up!

So, in this instance, you have experience with the characteristics that work for your hero. Use them. You said he "reminded" you of your father--not that he was an exact replica. I think we're always using examples of people we know when we're writing.

This is one of the down sides to being a writer. :) We can convince ourselves there is something wrong with us when there's not. Within moments of celebrating a breakthrough, we feel punched in the gut at how it's the worst thing ever. It's also an insidious trick used by the muses, to keep us from writing. Fight back! LOL

hal said...

I didn’t think I was in need of immediate psychological care.

This line cracked me up, Marn! It's the little verbal question mark at the end. The one where you look around and go, right? RIGHT?

But I think you're sane. I think we all do this, and it's normal. I would say healthy, but I'm not convinced writing itself is healthy

I'm with Chance -- if you were trying to cast yourself into the heroine role and daddy into hero role, then we're spending the morning looking up phone numbers. That's very clearly not what's going on here. Nor are you trying to recreate one particular incident to see it played out a different way.

Instead, you're taking the external manifestations of things like "charming," "entrepreneurial" and "loyal", and using the way that those characteristics looked and acted and felt. And you're putting them on your hero. THAT is something we all do, and I think we almost half to. I mean, how else do we know what "entrepreneurial" looks like if not by remembering someone who seemed to exude that?

I think we can always take a character, especially a hero/heroine we know so well, and say, "I see a bit of ___ in them." And I think that's a good thing.

Hellion said...

Nah, I think it's normal. There's that old adage that girls grow up to marry their dads (though I'm guessing this assumes one had a positive relationship with their father) because your father is usually your first hero--your basis for determining what makes a good man. The qualities you mentioned in your father aren't qualities exclusive to just him; they're qualities we all want in our heroes, our men: honorable, funny, intelligent, quick to defend and protect.

I think you're just seeing your dad because dads are usually our first heroes...before we become teenagers and learn better. *grins* Still even though we eventually learn our dads are no heroes, just fallible men, what we learned/believed as a child is hard to shake later.

And I agree with Hal. I think we write our characters and see a bit of someone we know in them. It's a good thing. I see bits of my dad in my heroes--they're usually the more silent type with the witty one-liner at the right moment; their idea of romance is changing the oil in your car than buying you flowers. Actions and not words, practical and not tossing money about to impress you.

You're a bit creeped out. Try writing a scene between best friends and realizing the argument you're writing is very similar to ones you've had with your best friend--and you've made the best friend an obnoxious bitch. I mean, what if this publishes and your friend reads it then? You thought you were fighting BEFORE...

Bosun said...

I do agree with everyone that you're totally sane. After all, if you - the most together member of this crew - are nuts, what would that say about the rest of us? LOL!

Hellie's right about the old adage that a girl often marries a man just like her father, but I think that requires that the dad was a good guy. In fact, that's why it's a problem in many cases and needs to be addressed.

I'm sure I slide pieces of people I know into my characters, but I'm usually too distracted by the amounts of me I slide into my heroines. Even when I'm making a concerted effort not to do it. Though I do find the more heroines I write, the further they get from being exactly me. Which I find encouraging.

Bosun said...

That's supposed to be "...I DON'T think that requires..."

And I've had my coffee. Heh.

Marnee said...

Mmmmm... Cinnamon Raisin bagel with Hazelnut cream cheese.

Okay, I'm back from dropping the eldest at preschool and ready to dive in.

Disclaimer: I have no intention of casting myself into my heroine's role against my father in the hero role. In fact, if I were casting myself anywhere, it'd probably be the hero role too. I trend more like my dad than anyone else in my family. (That includes the flaws I hesitate to mention above). I think that's kind of why I was having a problem with my hero. My heroine is unlike me. She's pretty serious, she's been through a hard time and can't see beyond the work and drudgery of her life. She's just doing the best with what she's got, wishing her days away until the "good times" start. I think she needed someone like me (and my dad, kinda by default) with my general inability to take myself too seriously to loosen her up. But it might be weirder to think you're casting yourself into the hero role than to think you're casting your dad.

*Rethinks psychiatric drugs....*

Chance - Because they aren’t perfect but we still love them, so that means we don’t have to be perfect to be loved. Nor does anyone else…

I loved that line.

I do think writers can't help but be observant. It's sort of what we do, create worlds. So it makes sense that we would need to "see" as much about this one as we can.

Marnee said...

Donna - This is one of the down sides to being a writer. We can convince ourselves there is something wrong with us when there’s not.

Exactly! I was all thinking I'd made this major breakthrough, feeling like I'd gotten the handle on that elusive THING that makes a good story and then BAM! I stopped to evaluate my psyche and plot myself out on the bell curve of sanity. Grrr.... Curse you, internal editor!!!

I will fight back! You can not defeat me, MUSE!!

Hal - I think you hit it on the head. The sort of carefree, charming, entrepreneur with an ulterior motive behind his grin. I've seen that before. Outgoing, super personable, the kind of guy everyone likes even as he's selling ice to an eskimo. Consummate salesperson. That's kind of what my hero's like in my head right now.

I know what that guy would say in certain circumstances. I'd just have to imagine what my dad would say, tweak a little, and there it is. :)

And I'm glad you think I'm sane too. This is very reassuring, guys. :) Thanks!

Marnee said...

Hellie - You're right; our daddies are our first heroes. Maybe that's it too. And I'm sure I've seen those characteristics in other men, I just knew my dad better than those guys so he's sticking out to me.

But it makes me wonder how much is too much to take from someone. You guys mentioned taking an entire person and tweaking the outcomes of a situation. Do you think that's different? Where's the line here? I would also hate to see myself in someone's book meeting a less than savory outcome. Is that the line?

PS, Hells, I think your dad sounds like a good hero too. :)

Marnee said...

Bo'sun - After all, if you – the most together member of this crew – are nuts, what would that say about the rest of us?

Wait, I'm the most together here? Wow, we're in some serious trouble.... LOL!!

I like that everyone else feels ok slipping other people in. I know I've done it a little bit before, but this one just feels really strongly influenced.

Though I do find the more heroines I write, the further they get from being exactly me. Which I find encouraging.

I think I know what you mean here and I think I kind of agree. My first heroine felt a lot more like me than my last couple. I don't know if that means I'm allowing the story to dictate more or if I'm just running out of depths to plume inside myself. Which might actually be a sad thing if I could plume all my depths in ONE book.... LOL!

Bosun said...

I think this first full book has the most elements of *my* story. Maybe we need to get that out of the way. LOL! I assume all my heroines will have aspects of my personality and life, but the next two at least are quite different from me, much more so than Emma (current MS.)

Marnee said...

I do think we have to get it out of the way. And I think first MS writers have a lot to worry about. It only makes sense that some heroine traits be familiar traits.

hal said...

I think we all, to some varying extent, cast ourselves as our first heroine. I could definitely see a lot of myself in my first heroine. Mostly because when she was confronted with a choice or obstacle, she reacted how *I* would have reacted. I think since then, I've gotten better at having characters flushed out enough that I can see how *they* would react, rather than just writing the first gut-reaction of how *I* would react.

Does that make sense? The heroine I'm working on now, Naomi, is SOOOOOO different from me, that sometimes I have to actually stop and think, "No, that sounds how I would react, and she and I would almost never react the same way. What would she do now?"

Bosun said...

Makes total sense, Hal. Only I'm not as conscious that I'm doing it. LOL! Though what I'm finding is that the idea of writing these heroines who are so different from me is really exciting.

I'm excited to write about the heroine who has spent her whole life letting others dictate her life. I get to write her story as she finds her spine and stands up for herself. That's very different from me, but somehow sounds like fun to write.

hal said...

That does sound like fun to write! Especially if you're someone who usually doesn't let people push you around.

This particular heroine, Naomi, is very pragmatic and non-emotional. She's been undercover for a long time, doing really nasty things and having nasty things happen to her. So her emotions are kaput. They're turned off. I react emotionally to almost everything -- she hears someone planning to kill her and doesn't blink. It's fun, because I can play with all these different reactions that would never really be open to me personally just because of who I am (not that I'm ever in those situations....but you know...)

Bosun said...

Maybe this is what actors get out of becoming totally different people. It's way more interesting than I even realized. Though in the end, there will still be something of us in there. Like a Where's Waldo for personality traits.

Janga said...

Marn, I think you're just being a writer. Think about all those literary classics you read and taught and how many of them have autobiographical elements. I know I use bits and pieces in my writing from the people and situations I know. I even did it with poems. Remember what Wordsworth said in his "Preface to Lyrical Ballads (1800)"? I think of what I use in those terms. I "choose incidents and situations from common life"--my life--, and "throw over them a certain coloring of imagination." That last bit is important though. If we stay too true to RL, we could be courting law suits. LOL

This is a timely topic for me today. Earlier I read an email from a friend and realized she'd make a great heroine. I even made notes, and I have an expert close at hand when I need questions answered. Now I have to work on that "coloring of imagination" and come up with a hero for her. ;-)

Marnee said...

I’ve gotten better at having characters flushed out enough that I can see how *they* would react, rather than just writing the first gut-reaction of how *I* would react.

I think I did that in my first too. Maybe not everyone does, but I think this must be a common thing as we master getting into the character's head. It is hard to constantly step back and think, would *she* do this?

Bo'sun - Where's Waldo.... LOL!!

Janga - coloring of imagination

This is exactly what I mean. I think taking people and twisting them is okay, but writing that exact person and an exact situation might not be and might be where the line is between fictional telling and paying a lawyer's retainer.

2nd Chance said...

Exactly! I was all thinking I’d made this major breakthrough, feeling like I’d gotten the handle on that elusive THING that makes a good story and then BAM! I stopped to evaluate my psyche and plot myself out on the bell curve of sanity. Grrr…. Curse you, internal editor!!!

Does someone need a slide down the kraken's gullet to learn some manners? He takes internal editors, too!

I think my heroines are always going to be me in some way. Or if not me, the me I wish I was.

I married my father in so-o-o-o-o-o-o-o many ways. Then I spent years retraining him.

Marnee said...

I keep tossing that editor overboard and he swims way too well for my liking. LOL!!

I married my father in so-o-o-o-o-o-o-o many ways. Then I spent years retraining him.


MistyJo said...

Marnee, I'm chiming in with the rest to say that you're not crazy. However, the father figures in my life could be combined to make one hell of a villian. I would have to take heroic qualities from my grandfather. He was an amazing person.

ALL of my characters/stories come from the people around me. My family is crazy. They feed my imagination like nothing else. Someone is always doing something funny or stupid. The entertainment never ceases.

Bosun said...

I'm pretty sure Misty's "characters" don't need that coloring of imagination. LOL! Unless her goal was to make them sound more normal.

2nd Chance said...

Misty, as long as it's entertainment're golden. My extended family provides a sort of entertainment, more soap opera than giggles though!

Marnee said...

MistyJo - I totally get with the entertainment. It's never a dull moment around here either. LOL!! I guess that's true, without all that craziness, I wonder where I'd get any inspiration?

Marnee said...

Some characters need more coloring than others, I guess. LOL!!

Janga said...

I have always maintained that Misty should be writing a sit-com script with her family as writer's fodder. :)