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Writing Tip #6

Be careful with your characters — don’t make them too much like yourself.

Now, anybody who has read anything on the Internet knows the term Mary Sue. Or you should. If you don’t:

Mary Sue – noun, the main character of a story used as an idealized self-insertion for the writer. Male equivalen is a “Gary Stu.” These characters have extremely positive qualities, get together with the other major character and live happily ever after – the end.

Now, even if you aren’t doing this, it’s easy to put yourself into a character. Every character will have some aspect of you. But once you start realizing that you’re putting a character into similar situations such as you, having them react to things the same way as you, doing things that, hey, you always wanted to do…it goes south.

The reason I know is that my first novel (a novel – several hundred pages, mind you) had a major character that was pretty much me. No big improvements, no happy ending — I knew at the time to avoid that. But hey, why shouldn’t she be sort of like me? No big deal. I’m cool. I’ve had universal experiences. It’s not really me.

But it was.

And I didn’t look back at it until after the fact, but when I did, I knew it was me.

And I realized I didn’t like her very much.

It’s not because I have low self esteem. No way. I’m awesome. But I found myself deflated because I had lost an opportunity to make a really interesting character by doing what I didn’t even realize at the time was an easy way out. It was me. And I’m not that interesting, let me tell you. Bleh.

An now I’m rewriting that novel. And though that is a story for another day, I’ll say this — killing an entire novel sucks.

Give your characters some thought. Get in their heads. And then, kick yourself out.

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