But that’s not me

I’m not Greg Novara.

I’m also not Father Roger Greene, R.J. Dowland, Rev, Stick, or Ted Prince. In fact, none of the characters I have ever created are me.

Are there parts of my personality in some of my characters? Sure. Are there parts of my friends and family represented in a novel or two? Absolutely.

But using bits and pieces from real life is part of being an author – observing life and using it in order to (hopefully) write something entertaining for readers. I remember sitting in a shopping mall during the Christmas madness season a few years ago. By that time of the day my wife and I had been shopping long enough I was just a glorified pack mule so I grabbed a seat in the middle of the aisle and piled up the bags around me while she went into the next couple of stores. I began watching a gentleman sitting a few feet away – the way he was dressed, his mannerisms, the sound of his voice as he said hello, the look on his face when his wife came to collect him.

In the 15 minutes I watched this man, I created a whole backstory about his life: why he was wearing an odd little hat, how he got to that point, and who he was. When he left, I had the beginnings of a side character for one of my stories. And it was all because of my observations of him.

But my character was not him.

I bring this up now because a friend of mine was called out a couple of weeks ago by a reader of one of his novels. This person berated the author, calling him all kinds of nasty names and assuming he knew my friend and his beliefs. This person just “knew” my friend was evil incarnate because the main character was not a nice guy. In fact, the protagonist was an anti-hero, someone intentionally written to not be perfect.

Writers create faults within characters in order to make them interesting. As an example, think back on some of your favorite books and the heroes in them. Were they infallible? Did they always do exactly the right thing? If so, then what they probably ended up being were one-dimensional, flat actors in a predetermined play.

Real people have faults. Life is messy. If an author has chosen to use an anti-hero as their protagonist, part of the conflict within the story might be whether or not they can clean their act up enough to do the right thing by the last page. By the same token, using a generally good man/woman in the lead role who does something bad in the course of 400 pages does not make them an unlikable character.

Faults are what make characters interesting. Just remember those faults do not necessarily belong to the author as well.