Friday, July 19, 2013

Putting Yourself in Your Book

By Chester Campbell

I'm not talking about making yourself a character in your book, but consciously or not we usually include a lot of ourselves in our writing. Back in the days when I made a lot of public appearances (a voice problem limits my talking these days), I would talk about my Greg McKenzie mysteries and someone would invariably ask, "Is Greg really you?"

My standard reply was, "He's bigger and bolder and more confrontational than me, but we think a lot alike."

A lot of my characters have no relationship to me, either in size or demeanor or thought processes. But at least one of the key personalities is bound to express my sentiments about the situation. It just comes flowing out of my fingers naturally. I choose to write about subjects that interest me, which means I have feelings that get expressed in one way or another.

There are other ways we put ourselves in our novels. One is to use experiences we've had some place or another. I've done that countless times. In my first post Cold War political thriller, Beware the Jabberwock, I had my two principal characters, Burke Hill and Lori Quinn, ride the Star Ferry across Hong Kong Harbor. I described it as I remembered from my visit to Hong Kong back in 1987 (the story takes place in 1992).

In the second of the thriller trilogy, The Poksu Conspiracy, I had Burke Hill visit Chiangmai, Thailand. I used the Top North Guest House where my wife and I and our son and his wife stayed during our Far East tour. It was more like an early American motel with limited amenities. I also used places we visited such as the Chiangmai Night Bazaar and Wat Prathat Doi Suthep, a Buddhist temple high on a mountain west of the city.

My first Greg McKenzie mystery was based largely on a tour I took of the Holy Land in 1998. Greg and Jill make a similar journey as the book begins, and several of the characters were based on people I met during the trip. One who played a key role was our tour guide in Israel, an American who had lived in Jerusalem for several years. I used a lot of her characteristics but changed her sex for plot reasons.

I think most writers put a lot of themselves in their books in one way or another. Do you find your thoughts, your preferences, your characteristics, your experiences showing up in your prose?

Visit me at Mystery Mania or my website ChesterDCampbell


Morgan Mandel said...

Yes, if you don't meld with your character, how can you expect readers to do so as well?

Morgan Mandel

Chester Campbell said...

So true, Morgan. I like to read viewer comments on how they view my protags.

Chester Campbell said...

That didn't come out quite the way I intended. What I meant to say was I like to view reader comments on how they see my protags.

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

Yes, Chester, there is bound to be a part of ourselves in our characters--either how we are or would hope we would be in certain situations.

Marja said...

I know there are bits and pieces of me in my stories, but I don't always realize it until I'm doing the final edit. I think it would be difficult NOT to put some of ourselves in the stories.
Marja McGraw

Chester Campbell said...

Yes, Marilyn, I hope I would be as daring as my characters are in some of the situations I task them with, but I doubt it.

Lynn Cahoon said...

One of my beta readers asked if I was the 'older aunt' in my book. Now I know how she sees me. LOL