Living Vicariously through Your Characters

In reference to my IWSG post earlier this month, I have officially asserted and claimed my passion and my future in the area of writing. Now—just like when you have to sit down and focus all your energy on that one homework assignment or that one tricky page of your novel—my mind has started to wander off and want to do everything that has nothing to do with writing. The writing, though, is, surprisingly, still going quite well despite this; but in my mind-wandering, I have come across something which I am shocked to realize I either failed to remember seeing (that’s doubtful) or simply haven’t seen before.

Because I was already missing my interest in physics while only three days into NaNoWriMo (though physics plays a significant part in the novel) at the beginning of which I had promised I would focus all my attention on the manuscript, I started watching The Big Bang Theory, which was already one of my favorite programs but of which I had not seen all the previous episodes. Upon watching this episode, this scene in particular, I got a bit giddy: the thing is, I live approximately 10 miles southeast of Traverse City, MI, and I have been inside said agricultural center. Obviously it is not a secret military supercollider (or is it?), but that is beside the point.

To portray my point effectively, I feel I must share with you the one (long) sentence summary of my novel:

The beliefs of a tight-knit community have been stretched to their limits, but even as a soldier returns home from Afghanistan to care for his young daughter after his wife’s sudden death, as an introverted boy on the brink of teenagedom plots revenge on school bullies and his obsessive-compulsive mother, and as a speculative college student wrapped up in her astronomy studies begins to lose herself in a relationship with her rekindled childhood flame, the residents of this small town on the shores of Lake Michigan must learn to stick to their convictions more than ever when eerie sightings in the night sky bring fear, defensiveness, and mistrust into the core of their decisions.  

If it is not apparent, this story takes place in an eerily Traverse-City-like town—and I am doing more than drawing from my environment to develop this story. In all of the characters I can sense some aspect of myself, and I have either accentuated or dialed down certain aspects to shape the characters in such a way that they are each unique but that I can still relate enough to them to be able to convey their emotions and experiences convincingly. I have mentioned the contents of this scene from The Big Bang Theory in the story, though not naming it directly, to disguise the reference and to create a sort of inside joke for myself and those who will see through the reference (most likely just my friends). But of course, there are hundreds of threads that transcend the story and resonate with me.

Aspects of a writer’s life often—as a matter of fact, almost always—seep into the writing. Writers can draw from their relationships, their emotional struggles, and their diverse medley of knowledge, bridging them together in the imaginary world of their story. The more they can relate to their characters, the more accurately they can portray them.

However thin the line between fiction and truth is, the characters in the story are always pivotal. The shape of a character in a writer’s mind is formed through the writer’s own experiences and his or her relationships with other people. A science-loving writer can develop a scientist character, focusing on the frustration of her life not going exactly as she planned. But some of the other characters that populate the world of the story may resonate with the writer even more so than the main protagonist. And not only the characters’ personalities but their emotions—even when their circumstances are altered—and their relationships, mirror those of the writer.

Writing can be cathartic, even fiction: an outward manifestation of the writer’s frustration. It’s not necessarily a way for a writer to live vicariously through his or her characters, per se, but it can be a way for the writer to utilize the knowledge and experience gathered throughout life in a positive way, rather than a destructive way, or simply rather than not using it at all.

How much of your life to you allow into the creation of your story’s world?

Peace, Aimee