Tuesday, January 17, 2012

My Literary Alter Ego Is an Honors Student

I've read interviews where published authors say that they never base their characters on themselves or people they know; they claim that their characters are completely original and come from their imagination, not their daily lives. I find that a little hard to believe, because I think that the people in our lives inspire us to write.

On the other hand, the characters in my fiction aren't carbon copies of the people in my life. I wouldn't want to get sued, for one thing. I also wouldn't want people to come up to me and say, "That character is nothing like me! I'm a much better friend than that! Is it really so bad that I always tell you about how much fun I have with my other friends without ever inviting you to come with us? And so what if I always call you at the last minute? Why wouldn't you want to drop everything and hang out with me?"

In one of the stories I'm writing, my main character is a lot like me. I like the idea of having a literary alter ego, because this person gets to do and say all the things that I don't get to do or say in real life. I also like the idea of having a literary alter ego who is tougher and more honest than I am. In my story, this person isn't afraid to stand up to all the people who are mean to her; these people are the disguised literary alter egos of the people who treat me like crap in real life.

For example, yesterday I was walking around the lobby of my building, and I saw a woman standing at the front door. I didn't open the door for her because I didn't know her, and I'd really rather not let strangers into my building. But she banged on the door after I walked by. She was on the phone, and apparently she didn't want to interrupt her conversation, or maybe she didn't have the strength to use her bony fingers (which reminded me of the fingers that I saw on the Witch in the most recent episode of Once Upon a Time) to open the door herself. Or maybe she was just lazy. Either way, when I opened the door for her, she glared at me and was extremely sarcastic and rude with me for not opening the door for her.

I just mumbled something at her and walked away. But my literary alter ego would be a lot braver than that. She'd yell back, "Why are you just standing there? What, do you think you're in an episode of Downton Abbey? I am NOT your butler and you are NOT a 'lady'; you're a LOSER!" or "You do realize that when you're extremely rude like that, I will have no choice but to trip you on the way to the elevator, right?" or "I'd whap that cell phone right out of your hand with my bag of M&Ms if there wasn't the risk that the bag would break and then I wouldn't get to eat the M&Ms. Of course, there's always the possibility that you could slip and fall on them, and then I could stand there and laugh maniacally at you."

There's a really cute, muscular guy at my gym who works out at the same times that I do. I always see him running on the treadmill while I'm working out on the elliptical. Sometimes I keep exercising just so I can stare at his, um...pants a little bit longer. But I've never mustered enough courage to say anything to him. I'm too shy to even jog on the treadmill next to him, because I'm afraid that I might do that thing where I slip and fall on the treadmill before sliding off of it face-down.

But my literary alter ego would have the guts to walk up to him and talk to him. And in my story, he would turn out to be a nice guy who liked her back, not a guy who'd be more likely to dismiss her in favor of one of the girls who always does sit-ups in a tight sports bra in front of the guys who lift weights.

I applied to teach a class this summer, but I didn't get the job. It bothers me that I will have to work ANOTHER awful summer job that makes me so stressed out I start hallucinating and think that bugs are crawling up my arms. I definitely can't just work another retail job, though, because most retail jobs don't pay enough and I've gone into debt because of that fact. So I have to look around for something better.

My literary alter ego, though, wouldn't have to work a crappy summer job. She'd do something that I've always wanted to do, like take a cross-country road trip by herself. AND she'd be a much better driver than I am, seeing as how I can't even park a car without gritting my teeth and shrieking, "Don't hit anything, don't hit anything, don't hit anything, EEEEEEPS!!!" until the car is safely in place. Or she'd have the money to travel to Europe and try new foods and learn the languages; she'd take a bunch of pictures and write about everything that she saw and experienced.

She wouldn't have to spend the summer saying stuff like, "Would you like to sign up for the store's credit card?" while thinking, "Oh, don't even bother. You could get the same stuff that you just bought at a discount store for half the price, but I can't tell you that because it's bad for business. I also don't want to tell you that, seeing as how you just yelled at me for not accepting your expired coupons and because you tried on twenty different items of clothing and only bought one. So what do I care if you just spent more money than I'll earn in an entire shift? Not that I'm BITTER or anything."

I do take things from my real life and put them in my fiction; for example, I write about online dating, teaching, those moments of loneliness, confusion, disillusionment, frustration, and fear that all thirtysomethings and twentysomethings feel at some point, life in Chicago, etc., etc. Writing helps me analyze what happened to me, and in many cases I get to write about what I would have liked to have happened instead. And having a literary alter ego makes it even better, because even if I can't do everything that I want to do in real life, she can. But it doesn't always come without consequences for her, though. I figure that if problems do come up, then a plot will develop as well. And that makes the story even more interesting.

What about you? Do you have a literary alter ego in your fiction? What is she/he like?

(Side note: I was an honors student when I was younger. So that's at least one reason I'm not envious of my literary alter ego.)


  1. I totally did that face dive on the treadmill thing once. I stepped off it to refill my water bottle. Hit pause. Went to get back on, didn't notice that it started going again. Stepped on it. Fell flat on my face. Got a really nasty bruise on my chin, split my lip bruised up my arm and knee.

    The bonus was the cute guy at the gym was there, and came over to see if I was okay. I laughed it off and finished my run. I also have fallen off elliptical's before so those are not any safer for me (my foot got caught in the moving bits).

    Glad to see you are back.

  2. Hi Sara,
    I did fall flat on my face in front of a cute guy once (okay, it was more than once, but in this situation, the guy came over to help like yours did). But it wasn't on the elliptical; I was running to catch the bus and slipped and fell face-down on the icy sidewalk. And I didn't even catch the bus.
    I disappeared from the blogosphere for a while because of work, but also because I was suffering from blogger's block. But I have some more ideas for posts now.

  3. People who say they don't write about themselves are full of it. In my stories I actually tend to be... well, honestly, worse than I am in real life. I had a friend read a story that I wrote where the main character was most definitely me, and my friend was like "I didn't like her." And I laughed. Because obviously in real life she likes me, since we were like BFFs, but for some reasons in my stories I tend to enjoy showing my worst sides. I guess because I know that makes for a more interesting character than if I'm just wonderful and put together and awesome. In the one she read, I also put myself into a real shit situation and made myself complacent with it and... yeah, it was funny though, hehe.

  4. Hi mmarinaa,
    Like you said, it's good to write about characters with flaws, because that's how people are in real life. It can be boring to read a story about someone who never does anything wrong, because there's no one in real life who's like that.

  5. I'm a pretty strong believer that no one ever creates something completely 100% from imagination. Everyone uses real life inspirations.

  6. Hi Tom,
    I think it'd be much more difficult to create something purely from one's imagination. It'd be more fun to base characters on people we know in real life, because then we can disguise them with interesting details.

  7. My literary alter ego is way cooler than me. Most of my characters don't take people's crap either. In real life though, I'm more of a peacemaker, at least with people I don't know. : )

  8. Hi Emily,
    I wish I could say that I was a peacemaker, but I've never been good at that. I'm more likely to obsess over what I should have said to the mean person.

  9. I ought to get myself a literary alter ego. She would know how to drive, and actually have a licence, and could join yours on the summer road trip. I've always wanted to drive from London to Istanbul. Or take the 10,000$ Orient Express.

    Love that Honest Scrap award!

  10. Hi Deniz,
    I like the Honest Scrap award too; it's the first blogging award I ever received. I think it'd be cool to go to London in particular. I'd love to just sit in a cafe and listen to British people talk. And I think it'd be cool to go to a play set in England and hear real British accents. Did I mention I love British accents and that I wish I had one?

  11. I think my literary alter ego would be similar to yours; definitely would be more honest with what she's feeling, more confident to stick up for herself, and more willing to take risks. Lastly, she would also be one of those people with a REALLY fast metabolism who can eat whatever she wants and never have to work out. ;-)
    I suppose that is why we need books, right? To live vicariously through our characters? To take part in stories we will never experience? To feel things that we otherwise never would? I think that's ultimately literature working its magic (even if it does make us a bit more melancholy about our OWN rather mundane lives). :-)

  12. Hi Teddi,
    I wish I could eat whatever I want too; I'd have so much more time to write and study if I didn't have to go to the gym. The characters in my novel eat a lot too, but they don't work out; I didn't even realize that until now. Maybe I should write in some gym scenes...

  13. It's great actually that we can create the characters to our liking- flaws and all!

  14. I have to say that Serenity in Build A Man is a lot like my inner voice, which is probably why I felt comfortable writing that novel in first person. She makes a lot of decisions and choices I wouldn't be her inner dialogue is like mine.

  15. Hi Nas Dean,
    I do like creating new characters, especially because they often end up surprising me by doing or saying things that I hadn't been expecting.

    Hi Talli,
    I think that one of my main character's inner dialogue is like mine too; like me, she spends a lot of time obsessing over everything. :)

  16. I think I started writing my novel Tough Girl as a wish list for things I wanted to do...

  17. Hi Libby,
    I like the idea of novels as the authors' wish lists; they're a good way for writers to live out their dreams through their characters.

  18. Your literary alter ego is badass.

    The best part of being a writer is the time you have to come back with the perfect quip. Real life never slows down like that. But really, I wouldn't say most of what I could write anyway.

  19. Hi Theresa,
    Like you said, there's a sense of freedom and power in writing, because it gives us the courage to say what we couldn't/wouldn't say in real life. Sometimes I'm afraid that if someone were to read what I wrote, they'd know I was directing certain comments at them; that's why I have to disguise certain supporting characters in my fiction too, just in case. That way they'll be less likely to recognize themselves.