What Do Your Characters Mean – Is It Ever Possible To Remain Aloof?

When writing, I’ve seen a general trend when it comes to characters and how their authors are meant to engage with them. Keeping it general, the attitudes seem to follow two distinct trends. On one hand writers are encouraged to care about their characters – to have some sort of bond with them, or that the characters are meant to be based in part upon their creator. On the other, the writer is meant to remain distant and impersonal towards his or her characters, and to sacrifice them to plot progression rather than shield them due to sentimentality. From this perspective, to do anything else would seem to suggest a dreaded Mary-Sue!

Yet as the title says, my question is can an author ever remain aloof about their characters? Is that a reasonable demand?

I have mixed feelings over this – I seem to be stuck as some sort of hybrid between the two. On the one hand, my first and foremost intention is to write a good story, and that inevitably means sacrificing characters so that the plot remains gripping, and thus not watered-down. Yet, as I write, as the words go down on paper, I find it hard to stick to that goal. Sometimes I end up rooting for certain characters as I write. It can be for a number of reasons. I might enjoy writing from their perspective. I might want them to succeed in their goals. I might even feel a bit sad when I do the deed – and set their fate.

It’s hard to ignore that as you write, you get attached to your characters. Perhaps for varying reasons, but in the end you have some sort of subtle bond with each character you create. You wouldn’t end up writing about that character at any length if you didn’t. I think this is due to two reasons.

First, that writers are limited in how much they can distance themselves from a character. It might be possible to consciously differentiate the author from the character when writing, but subconsciously? In the end, the character’s perspective is in fact the author’s perspective that has gone through various forms of moderation. If the author were to write a character that was a reader, the reader would not be a distinct “reader” character that is independent of the author. Instead, the “reader” is the author’s idea of reading – the character is the author’s reader, not just a reader. As such, each character is more the author’s interpretation of that character type than an actual distinct individual.

Secondly, as you write you get attached to characters. Let’s admit it. We’ve all had characters that we’ve enjoyed writing about – they’re those special few that transgress across being simply fictional characters. They in fact become more than characters; in some way we start to think of them as real people. It’s the same effect we have when reading – we treat the characters we read about as real. In the same way, we treat the characters we write about as real too. It comes from having to write about them. We have to think as them. We have to write as they would speak – we end up going through their adventures as they are created. Just by virtue of writing, we get attached to them.

The question I want to ask you all is do you remain aloof about your characters? Do you think you must remain impassive about them, or that it’s healthy to have some sort of attachment to them? Finally, is it acceptable for an author to have characters that are in part based upon themselves? Let’s hear your thoughts!


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