How much of yourself is hidden in the characters in your book?

Freud thought every role in a dream was played by the dreamer, and in a way, that’s the way my books are. The emotions the characters feel are mine since I can only write what I feel, and their personal problems are ones I’ve grappled with. In the writing, though, the characters become more than I ever was as they develop in response to the needs of the story. Kate from A Spark of Heavenly Fire is the most like me, maybe because she was the first character I created.

Here are some other authors’ responses to the question about much of themselves are hidden in their characters. The comments are taken from interviews posted at Pat Bertram Introduces . . .


From an interview with A. F. Stewart, Author of Once Upon a Dark and Eerie

I really hope there is very little of me in my characters since many of them tend to be immoral, vicious, bloodthirsty killers, or unwise enough to get themselves into situations where they are maimed or killed. Well, maybe they share my odd sense of humour.

From an interview with Debra Purdy Kong, Author of “The Opposite of Dark”

When I first began writing about Casey several years ago, I think we had more in common than we do now. Like Casey, I wasn’t interested in marriage, I was studying criminology, and my parents were divorced. However, I’ve grown older while Casey’s stayed young so our interests and concerns are quite different. She’s still building her career and attending school, and looking for love. I’ve been there, done that, so I look at her from a different perspective and see almost nothing of myself in her now.

From an interview with Bonnie Toews, Author of “The Consummate Traitor”

There are elements of myself in both heroines, but yet they are stronger than I think I could ever be. The journalist, Lee, lives with my recurring nightmare and my affinity with the Holocaust. I have often said, “I am a Gentile with a Jewish soul.” The pianist, Grace, reflects my more naive, pollyanna side. And yet, the one time I headed into the Rwandan conflict that proved the UN’s promise of “never again” would the world tolerate another genocide to be an outright lie, I went with complete faith, like Grace, that I was protected from harm.

From an interview with J J Dare, Author of False Positive and False World

The aggressive part of my passive/aggressive personality is turned loose in the books. I can let myself go through my characters; I can destroy without regret, lie with a straight face and a cold heart, and generally, get away with murder.

From an interview with Dellani Oakes, Author of Lone Wolf

Matilda is a lot like me in some respects. Her fierce devotion and the way she takes up for those she loves is totally me. Oddly enough, some of the aspects of Wil’s personality come from me as well. Mostly, he and Marc mirror aspects of my husband’s personality.

So, how much of yourself is hidden in the characters in your book?

(If you’d like me to interview you, please check out my author questionnaire and follow the instruction.)

Writing Dialogue

Dialogue is not conversation. It is an artificial construct that gives the impression of spontaneous and realistic speech without the ums and ers and repetition and stuttering and sidetracks into inanity that characterizes normal conversation. Dialogue shows the relationship between characters, and ideally should be so effective that any analysis of the relationship is unnecessary. 

Elizabeth Bowen, a British author, writes: “What are the realistic qualities to be imitated (or faked) in novel dialogue? Spontaneity. Artless or hit-or-miss arrival at words used. Ambiguity (speaker not sure, himself, what he means.) Irrelevance. Allusiveness. Erraticness, unpredictable course. Repercussion. 

“What must novel dialogue, behind mask of these fake rrealistic qualities, really be and do? It must be pointed, intentional, relevant. It must crystallize situation. It must express character. It must advance plot. During dialogue, the characters confront one another. The confrontation is in itself an occasion. Each one of these occasions, throughout the novel, is unique. Since the last confrontation, something has changed, advanced. What is being said is the effect of something that happened; at the same time, what is being said is in itself something happening, which will, in turn, leave its effect.” 

Dialogue also characterizes the speaker; we can tell who a character is by what that character says and how he or she says it. Each character the main character interacts with should bring our a different facet of the character. You generally don’t speak the same way to your boss and your best friend, your mother and your spouse. 

Sometimes when people talk to others, especially when they accuse the other person of doing or behaving in a certain way, they are talking to themselves. So, in effect, what a character says to another or about another reveals the character’s inner thoughts. Like dreams. Didn’t Freud say that all characters in a dream are facets of the dreamer? 

So how do you write good dialogue? 

Make speeches short.
Have speakers cut in on one another.
Answer a question with a question.
Ignore questions, or answer it after another exchange of words.
Instead of a character answering a question directly, have him tell why it was done: “Did you eat the cookie?” “They looked so good.”
Have characters play tug-of-war with words, each trying to get something from the other.
When editing, review every snippet of speech and ask yourself, “Is this the best, the wittiest, the most dramatic thing the character can say?” Dialogue is not life. In life, most of us can’t think of the perfect response until it is way too late. But in writing you can take your time and make each bit of dialogue a jewel. 

A perfect bit of dialogue from the seventh century: 

A foreign conquerors sent the Laconians a message: “If I come to Laconia, not one brick will stand on another.” 

The laconic reply? “If”.