Monday, April 14, 2014

Does Your Nature Influence Your Protagonist?

by AD Starrling

I often get asked whether I project my own personality onto that of my fictional characters or even give them traits that I wished I possessed. I normally say no. But I believe the answer is more complex than a simple yea or nay.

Consider Lucas Soul, the protagonist of Soul Meaning (Seventeen Book #1). He is warm, kind, honest, stubborn, self-sacrificing, and has a dry sense of humor. As one reviewer described him, he’s a quiet kinda guy, with an undercurrent of pure steel. Although Lucas is a great fighter, he only does so when challenged and in self-defense.

Do I want to be Lucas Soul? No. Does he share some of my traits? Yes. The warmth, the kindness, and the sense of humor.

Alexa King, the protagonist of King’s Crusade (Seventeen Book #2), is another kettle of fish. She is cold (to start off with), ruthless, focused, and would just as well kill you as look at you. She is the ultimate warrior and likes nothing better than being in a fight ring with someone who can challenge her physically.

Do I want to be Alexa King? No. Quite frankly, she scares the bejeezus out of me. Does she share any of my traits? Yes. The focus, the fighting spirit, and the determination to win.

I do not write myself into any of my characters. Not deliberately anyway. But I probably do so subconsciously to some extent. I know I respect all the above traits in my protagonists because I see them as positive attributes.

I also know that there are certain things I wouldn’t let my protagonists do, because I personally couldn’t/wouldn’t do those very things. I’m not talking stuff like kicking the bad guys’ asses and even killing them (Lord knows there’s plenty of that in my books!), but instead things like cruelty to children and animals, racism, dishonesty for reasons of self-interest (I do tell the occasional white lie when the situation calls for it), sexual discrimination, and others.

There have been times when I’ve paused in the middle of writing a scene and thought, ‘Nope, that’s not right. He/she would never say/do that,’ subconsciously meaning ‘I would never say/do that.’

As fiction writers, it is our duty to write interesting, fun characters that our readers will root for. Ultimately, we want our readers to give a damn whether our protagonist lives or dies. But I do wonder how much of our personality bleeds into those of our protagonists.

I have no problem writing about the bad guys in my books. Greene’s Calling is the first novel where there are several scenes from the bad guys’ POV, which my editors and beta readers enjoyed immensely. There is one particularly vicious soul I thought I might struggle to portray, but her feelings actually came very easily to me. This did worry me slightly.

Coming at this from another angle then, do I bestow any of my negative personality traits, fears, and insecurities onto my protagonists? I suspect not. I don’t believe they would appeal to readers if I did.

I have yet to write an antihero. I think I would find the process quite challenging as I like my protagonists to “shine a light into the darkness," and not the other way around. I would have to dig deep to make my readers care for an antihero. Yet, I do like antiheroes. Edmund Blackadder, Dexter, Hannibal Lecter, Hellboy, Daryl Dixon, or even Spike of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame come to mind. Maybe it’s the “bad boy syndrome” that attracts readers to this type of character. Maybe it’s the deep-rooted human instinct to find a spark of goodness in everyone, to want to see such a character redeem him/herself through a selfless act of kindness, even if he/she is a monster.

For the writers among you, are there things that are a definite no-no for your characters? Or are you ruthless in what you would have them do for the sake of the plot?

Readers, do you think writers live vicariously through their protagonists?

AD Starrling is the author of the award-winning and nominated supernatural thriller series Seventeen. She lives in England, where she spends her time writing fast-paced, action-packed thrillers, and juggling babies in the intensive care unit where she works as a part-time Pediatrician.

Soul Meaning (Seventeen Book #1) Second Edition and King’s Crusade (Seventeen Book #2) Revised Edition have just been released, with Greene’s Calling (Seventeen Book #3) scheduled for release in June 2014.


  1. Even when we think we're taking inspiration from outside, our perceptions are the filter the material must go through in order to reach the page. I've never written about a privileged protagonist. A police inspector (Maintenon) and everything in his life and era are outside of my own experience. And just like your protagonist, he's got a sense of humour, compassion, empathy...he wants to catch the killer but he's also human.

  2. Well said Louis. "Our perceptions are the filter the material must go through in order to reach the page". I love that sentence!

  3. A boatload of interesting thoughts in this post!

    I don't know if authors live vicariously through their protagonists but I believe that protagonists reveal something about their creators.
    It seems certain that Nelson DeMille is extremely bright and has a great sense of humor like his Detective John McClane.
    I'd bet big money that John Sanford appreciates fine clothes, cars and lovely ladies like his Detectives Davenport and Flowers.
    James Lee Burke must surely be sensitive to the plight of the downtrodden like his Detective Robicheaux and P.I. Clete Purcel.
    And on...

    As a writer I aspire to the best aspects of my protagonist(s) and hope that no one believes the twisted character traits of my villains roost within me. :-)

    And lastly - yes, there are many storylines/events that are out of bounds for me as an author (I make no judgment on other authors nor readers) . My beyond-my-boundary story elements would emotionally impact my readers (generally our goal as writers), but I have no interest in bringing my readers to such dark and ugly places.

    Stimulating post, A.D, Congrats on upcoming release!

    1. Thank you Tom!

      McClane is one of my favorite heroes. I agree with what you say about aspiring to the best aspects of the protagonists. I would like to be able to pen a twisted soul/antihero one day to see if I could meet that writing challenge.

      Looking forward to seeing your upcoming release as well Tom :)

  4. Great to see you on CFC, A.D.! And thanks for an excellent post!

    I advise my novelist clients to create a protagonist who's charismatic and basically sympathetic enough for readers to want to follow and root for through a whole novel, but with inner conflict, baggage, secrets, and a moral flaw or two to make them interesting, realistic, and vulnerable.

    Good luck with your series - I must check them out! :-)

    1. Thanks Jodie!

      Very true about the inner conflict and baggage of a protagonist. I love action-packed adventure novels but a character who is too perfect and cannot grow ends up boring me.

      Soul Meaning is a Kindle Countdown Deal from 16 April and King's Crusade is on a special $0.99 promo 22-25 May! :)

  5. All of my characters have some of me in them. And I also enjoy writing from the antagonist...because it's so liberating to not have any real boundaries.

    1. You've nailed it LJ. I think that's what worried me about one of the villains in Greene's Calling. The lack of boundaries truly freaked me out!

  6. I have always enjoyed writing from the POV of my flawed characters. The protagonists give me a reason to hope and the antagonists force me to understand. And yes, we all (my characters and I) have some kind of weird shared genesis. My husband would prefer not to dig too deep.

    1. That made me laugh, Peg! :-)

      I've had suspicious looks from some of my friends and colleagues, who believe I have a thrill-seeking, gun-loving, badass alter ego buried deep inside me (I wish. I screamed like a little girl when I saw a cockroach last night!).

      Again, I love that sentence "The protagonists give me reason to hope and the antagonists force me to understand".


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.