She's Not Me!
Creating authentic and believable characters can sometimes be a challenge when writing and for that reason many authors often use elements of themselves and their own personalities, or of people they know and love.
Sometimes you get a great idea and launch into structuring the bones of this amazing new story, but creating characters who will ultimately do all of the talking and really bring it to life can take much more time and work. How they walk, talk and act, or how they dress and what they like and don't like all become vital in making them feel real and like someone the reader can identify with or recognise.
As a first time author, one of the biggest things I struggled with was facing the fact that readers, family and friends might be thinking that the main character was based on me and my life. Sure, there are elements of me in Genevieve, like her job and some of her quirky characteristics, but I can assure you that many of the antics she gets up to in They Do, I Don’t and Annabel's Wedding, I definitely have not!
I realise it's a little trivial, but I remember when I was writing the first draft and thinking, what if people think I actually did this stuff? My main character is thrust into the world of being single after more than 20 years of marriage and with her crazy sisters along for the ride, she ends up in many a hilarious and/or embarrassing situation. At first the thought (and fear) of this really kept my writing bland. I was so afraid that people would think I was frequenting adult shops or speed-dating and hiding in a dark office with a hot man, that I steered clear of anything that was too outrageous. What if my Mum read this? Or my Dad? Or someone I work with? Genevieve doesn’t do anything mean or terrible, but she certainly gets into some sticky situations and makes some questionable choices. The thought that readers would be imagining my face on this crazy woman was horrifying. I’d never been one to go over the top or do
anything too outrageous (most of the time!), but writing is a chance to throw everything in and drag your characters on one hell of a ride, so at some point in the process I decided that I just had to suck it up and go for it.
Unfortunately that was easier said than done. My own sisters each decided which character in the book was most like them and went about asking me why they had to be the one to do this or that. I actually enjoyed the fact that I could now threaten them with “Don’t be mean to me or your character will end up getting something hideously embarrassing happen,” to which I’d get a ‘you better not” and “don’t you dare.”
The problem though was that once I decided to just go for it and try to tell the best and funniest story that I could, I didn’t realise the long term ramifications. As soon as the book came out, my introductory line every time anyone asked me about it was to say, “now, just so you know, this character is not me and I did not do any of the things that she got up to in the book.” Most of the time they hadn’t even asked anything about that, but it became the focus of every conversation I had about my writing!
I guess the conclusion I have come to is that people will make of it what they will no matter what I say or how many times I announce, “I did not do any of these things!” I’ve been told to let it be and just enjoy the fact that I might appear a little nuts and fun, but the side of me that would never do such a thing just picks away with reminders like, “you cannot let people think you would behave like that.”
At the end of the day, perhaps my character is just an extreme version of me, as well as a few other wonderfully fun ladies I know. She's someone that I could have been had I gone in one direction or another or made other choices (or just not given too much of a stuff).
Short of wearing a sign around my neck or a tattoo on my forehead announcing that everything in the book is fictitious or at least an extreme version of something that happened, there’s not much I can do about whether or not people imagine that I really did any of these things. I've spoken to a few authors who have agreed that they feel a little bit the same when they write something a little risky or confronting, but when writing scenes that are funny, self deprecation and embarrassment are just too good to pass up using for fear of people imagining or wondering if it's really you. So, if you read one of my books and decide that the character is a bit zany, unreasonable or anything else, it’s really not me, or at least only a little bit me!