Monday, October 21, 2013

Is Your Protagonist Your Alter Ego?

Many years ago, after reading the first novel I’d just finished writing, someone told me she could see me in every page. There were many similarities between me and my protagonist. We both wore glasses. (Now I wear contact lenses.) We liked the same foods and had many of the same hang ups. Soon after I started writing books for kids. Since I have two sons, my protagonist was usually a boy. I’d simply put myself inside the head of a boy and imagine how it feels to have an older brother with neurological problems (And Don’t Bring Jeremy.) I imagined how it would feel to suddenly have magical powers (Rufus and Magic Run Amok.)

The more books I wrote, the more my protagonists developed traits of their own. But certain personality and character traits of mine cling to each of my sleuths. Sometimes fiction precedes real life. In my Twin Lake mysteries, Lydia Krause is newly widowed and starting a new life in a gated community. She beat me there, as I became a widow after I wrote the book. Still, we both have a cat and we both live in a gated community.

Gabbie Meyerson in Giving Up the Ghost is also starting a new life. She’s divorced her husband, something I never did, after helping to send him to prison. (Didn't do that, either.) She takes a job teaching English (I taught Spanish) in a small Long Island community, and discovers she’s sharing a cottage with the ghost of Cameron Leeds. Pressed into service, Gabbie finds out who murdered Cam.

Ardin Wesley in Dangerous Relations bears the emotional scars of an abusive marriage, something I’ve never experienced. She finds herself wanting to adopt her murdered cousin’s little girl, which pits her against her cousin’s widower. She tries to ignore the fact that she’s falling for the guy, telling herself she doesn’t want anything to do with romance. In the course of the novel, Ardin comes face-to-face with her ex-husband. Even more painful is overhearing him tell his current wife that he'd never loved Ardin. Through it all, Ardin grows stronger and is able to love again.

There’s no question that Lexie Driscoll in Murder a la Christie is intelligent (she’s an English college professor). But Lexie’s not always wise when it comes to choosing the men in her life. Her first husband left her when she was pregnant with their son. When she decided to divorce her crazy second husband, he burned down her house with himself inside. Lexie finds herself spending the summer housesitting in affluent Old Cadfield, blocks from her college roommate and best friend, Rosie. Rosie is married to one of Lexie’s rejects and lives the life of luxury. Lexie realizes that this life could have hers. But would she have done things differently if she'd known how everything turned out?

The more books we write, the more our characters take on lives of their own. I suppose we subconsciously borrow traits from people we know, from characters in TV series, books and movies. How they behave and interact with one another are offshoots of their personalities and characters. My sleuths vary in age and social position, but they are all strong, intelligent women. Of course they’re all bolder than I am – never afraid to ask questions or to follow up on a clue, which often gets them into trouble as they go about solving murders.

In what ways are your sleuths like you? How are they different?


Kathleen Kaska said...

When a friend of mine refers to my protagonist, she uses the pronoun "you." I keep correcting her by saying, "You mean Sydney." Her response is, "What's the difference?" I don't really think of Sydney as my alter ego, but similar traits exist. I think of my protagonist as more of a role model. She's brave enough to say and do the things I can't.
I enjoyed your post, today, Marilyn.

Marilyn Levinson said...

Thanks, Kathleen. I think we get to lead bolder, more exciting lives through out protagonists.

Anonymous said...

I think most of our characters mirror us in some way. As someone once said, fiction writers are many people trying to be one.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

In my case, I don't think I'm much like any of my heroines except in the sense that they are strong women--I think I am too.

Terry Shames said...

My detective, Samuel Craddock is a man, a former chief of police, living in a small town in Texas. I'm a woman living in California--and I've never been in law enforcement. But when I was a guest recently at a book club, one of the readers, who knew me said, "Samuel likes art and you like art, Samuel likes to drink wine and you like to drink wine, Samuel's a nice person, and you are a nice person."

I had to admit she was right, but the first two are superficial similarities. I think the biggest similarity between Samuel and me is our droll look at the world around us. Like me, Samuel notices the foibles of his fellow citizens, but he feels affection for them anyway. And like me, even though he has sympathy for those desperate enough to commit crimes, his strong sense of justice prevails.

I think it's those deep connections with our characters that make us write what we write--the superficial details can live and grow along with the characters, but that depth of connection doesn't change.

Judy Alter said...

LOL, Marilyn. My oldest daughter told her mother-in-law my first mystery was "highly autobiographical."

Marilyn Levinson said...

I think those of us who write mysteries hold the belief that justice should prevail in the world. And so the murderer is always caught in the end. (Except in books like the Ripley series)

Palmaltas said...

My main protagonist usually is NOT me. Sometime a lesser character is. I try to make my law enforcement officers not too bright because I don't know how to create a character smarter than I am. Hence, the bumbling idiots in Who'll Kill Agnes?

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Many readers are convinced that Kim Reynolds, protagonist in three mysteries so far, is a lot like me. Other than the fact that we both have been academic librarians, we're not much alike at all. Unlike Kim, I have no psychic abilities, nor did I have a troubled childhood as she did. But readers enjoy seeing similarities. No problem! I just want them to buy my novels.

Marilyn Levinson said...

As long as the character representing you is there to see that everything works out right in the end:)

I think our sleuths will always include elements of us. I love exploring the parts that are different. Kind of like playing different roles in a play.

marja said...

They say to write about what you now about. Consequently, one of my protags is relatively short. Two of my protags loooove chocolate. They get this from me. I'm short and love chocolate. That's pretty much where the similarities end. Well, sometimes they say something the way I'd say it. :) Excellent post!
Marja McGraw

Eileen Obser said...

Since I mainly write memoirs, I really do write what I know about (Marja's comment). Great to meet you here, Marilyn. I wonder where you live on Long Island. (I live on the east end - East Hampton.)

Marilyn Levinson said...

Thanks, Marja.
You can always live vicariously thru a tall character.

Morgan Mandel said...

If I know the writer, I can tell the spots where the speech patterns are similar.

Morgan Mandel

Patricia Gligor said...

I think there are bits and pieces of me in several of the characters in my Malone mystery series. If I "had to" choose the character/s most like me, I would say that I'm a combination of the main character, Ann, and her sister, Marnie.
Several friends who have read my books have commented that they could tell I wrote the book/s but I think that's more a matter of style and word choice than anything else.