If you are not acquainted with Mary Sues in literature, they are self-inserts of the author, twisting the author into how he or she fantasizes himself or herself to be perceived: outrageously sexy, inexplicably endowed with convenient martial skills, can tell you the last digit of pi, probably possesses superpowers, half the cast hates the character and the other half is falling over each other in an attempt to win his or her affection.I'm not really here to talk about Mary Sues today; Anne Elisabeth did an excellent job with that already. But my problem was tangential to the whole issue of having a part of yourself wrapped up in your characters. I don't know if any of you have reached this stage, or if it even is a stage, but I hope that you will find this helpful all the same.
There is always a degree of myself in my characters - even in my male characters. While I always try to push outside of myself (or retard myself) to fit the place, age, and personality of my character, I can see how my own position, age, and personality affect the development of my character. Adamant portrayed my shyness, naivete, and sheltered misunderstanding of the world. It took a lot of development to bring out the harder core of the girl as I had to work through layers of my own idealistic attitudes which I found entrenched in my character's personality. Margaret was almost directly opposite: all sharp edges on the outside, endowed with my cynicism, my quixotic tendencies, my stubbornness - all of the martial features which, in the right context, are acceptable and can be an excellent defense against the world, but once they become habit they are prone to hurt anyone around you. Human beings are extremely complex, and I can explore such diametrically opposed personality traits which I have in myself by putting them in two separate characters.
But Ginger is different. You have already heard me discuss how very different Ginger and I are. Not only are our life experiences vastly different, our personalities are too. This is one reason why the 500-plunk has been such a life-saver: writing Ginger is hard. It is an uphill battle the whole way, against my own nature, against my own natural thought processes. She has parts of me for sure, but those parts are small and far between.
Like any writer, when I began having difficulty writing Ginger I began to doubt my skills. It is the instantaneous reaction of the writer: doubt. Doubt, doubt, doubt, some despair, doubt. All of my other characters came so relatively easily! From my earliest writings (when I didn't even try to veil that I was self-inserting into wildly fun and fantastic worlds) to the sound footings of The Shadow Things, I could relate to my characters. Maybe we weren't all that alike - Indi, for instance, while very relateable to me, is a better man than I am, Gunga Din - but somehow we always clicked. But while Ginger makes sense and is a great character to write and explore, I do not feel as though I am walking around in her body. And for a long time that has worried me.
But the fact is, Ginger is not me. None of our characters should ever be us, and Ginger bears that truth out in unavoidably bold script. I don't know if it is a place to "come to," but I have "come to" the place at which my characters are no longer dependent on me. It is my task to capture the essence of Ginger, not my place to bring her out of myself. And that's all right. In some ways, she is more a real character than some of my others.
Your characters are not you. Have you ever found yourself butting heads with a character you just could not relate to? Maybe it isn't writer's block: maybe it's that that character is more than ever his own personality and you are depending too much on your own personality to colour all your characters. It won't do. It wouldn't do for me, and until I recognized that fact I was having a lot of grief over Ginger. (I'm still having a lot of grief over Ginger, but that goes without saying...) But on the encouraging side, all these people really are stuck in your brain, subject to your existence to maintain theirs. They are not totally independent of you and you can learn their personalities without sacrificing your own. It just takes more time with some characters than with others.
people are like that too