I went out with a friend for dinner last night. Said friend had recently finished reading Searching the Skies, and I was eager to hear his thoughts. Part of the book deals with the main character's issues with her parents, specifically her mother. In our discussion of the book, my friend told me he had been wondering if my writings had granted him an insight into the relationship between me and my own mother.
It didn't. In fact, I think my words to him were, "No, I pulled that bit of plot out of my butt." (I'm a classy woman.) My mom and I are actually really close. Don't get me wrong, we've had our screaming fights before (find me one mother/daughter duo who hasn't), but we usually get along very well. I am extremely lucky in that both she and my father have always been 100% supportive of everything I've done.
In thinking it over more, I guess it was a pretty awesome compliment. Apparently, I wrote this strained relationship so well, my friend thought it was based on truth. In the past, I've been asked how much of the characters I write is based on myself, and the answer varies. I think it's inevitable that some of the author will leak out into the characters/plots/situations, but I can clearly recall plenty of occasions where I've written a protagonist I don't think is anything like myself, or times when my main character reacts in a way that is the opposite of what I would have done.
Don't get me wrong. I think I'm awesome. I like myself (probably a bit too much, no self-esteem problems over here). I think I lead a pretty decent life. All these things are good, but where's the fun in writing about that? Even if I like being myself, it's a good challenge to imagine being other people, people who are nothing like me in places that are nothing like my own little bubble of a world. Regardless of whether they're suffering through drama or living happily ever after, stabbing an enemy in the face or sipping tea by the fireplace, the different personality traits are what makes it interesting. If I'm really lucky, it's not only interesting to me, but the readers as well.
I've written characters with a large number of siblings, yet I'm an only child. I've written from the point of view of men, yet I am decidedly female. And let's be honest here - while I like writing about strong, ass-kicking women, were I in some of the positions I've put my characters into, my reaction would be to hide under the couch. Tears and pants-wetting would probably be involved.
Maybe, as is frequently the case, I'm approaching this the wrong way. Maybe instead of writing who we are, we write who we want to be. We write about the places we'd like to find ourselves in and the people we want to surround us. Not all the time, of course, as I think that could also get dull. Plot thrives on conflict and drama, and if our own idea of utopia is set up from the first page and stays perfect, I doubt readers would want to continue reading. Perhaps it's in the responses to and handling of that conflict in which we project how we want all our problems to be solved.
My next project is going to have a lot of shady characters and not very likable people. The heroes may do some not-so-nice things. I don't really want to be any of them. (I know, I just contradicted a lot of the previous paragraph.) Even so, there's bound to be a little "me" in there, even if it's just in how a character faces adversity in an admirable way, because that's the way I want my world to work. Not everything's going to have a happy ending, but if I write about the realists accepting that simple fact, I've already inserted myself into the story.
Oh, and any time a character says something especially witty or snarky? That's me all over.