Posted in Of Writingly

Of Writing Yourself in Your Story


Perhaps, because I am not a Star Trek fan, I’ve never known the concept of ‘Mary Sue’. You can read more about it here, but it originates from a female fan of Star Trek writing an idealized version of herself into a story for a fanzine. Now, this may not be anything groundbreaking for us today, considering the popularity of reading and writing fanfiction and how a large part of it consists of unabashedly including a version of yourself in the story, but writing a ‘Mary Sue’ has gone on to become a serious concern amongst people who read and write fiction for more commercial, less wish-fulfilling purposes. However, is writing a version of yourself, no matter how close or how far it is to you, really all that bad?

Let’s take the example of two Neurotic New Yorkers – Woody Allen & Lena Dunham. Intentional or not, we enjoy their instantly identifiable characterisations because we relate it to what we expect them to be in real life. These character traits draw us (or repel us, but judging by their popularity, I’d say the former holds the majority), but they also help in continuing the story forward through films, books and other media because, apart from what has been established, there is still much to explore. In this case, they happen to be both writers and performers, with each role influencing the other. In fact, I’d go as far as to say, performing a personality type that is uniquely identifiable is a dominant component in all our media today. Youtuber Zoella “writes” Girl Online because that is the kind of subject matter and style that is appropriate to the brand of her personality-driven channel. The same goes for any number of comedians, broadcasters, lifestyle writers etc. If you are going to be dabbling in different media, then it is highly likely that you would want something to thematically connect them that leads back to you. The easiest way of doing that is through your own personality. Then, why should fiction authors be any different?

Well, they are different. You generally don’t read a novel for the author, you read it for the story. You don’t look for him or her in it, you look for characters that push the story forward and mesh seamlessly into the overall world you find them in. If you do happen to know the author’s personality well, then it’s up to you, whether you find it a pleasure or a pain to find it in one of the characters. Perhaps, that whiny New Yorker in the short story irritates you, because you’ve already found Woody Allen doing that a million times before. Perhaps, it delights you, because that is exactly what you wanted to happen when you picked up that book. Perhaps, if it is someone you personally know, you may even be surprised to see the character you are reading doesn’t at all remind you of your friend. It might be what they think themselves to be like, but are unaware that they don’t come across as that to other people. In most cases, it doesn’t matter if the author includes a version of themselves in their story, because a large percentage of people reading that story have no idea what the author is like.

I’ll be honest, I’m sick of badass heroines. And nagging wives. And nerdy men who win the hot babe in the end. And Millennials who use abbreviations that more than half of the people born after 1980 have no idea about. That old adage “write what you know” can actually be a good thing. For one thing, it affords the chance for interesting detail, things you wouldn’t find in a stereotype. It affords complexity, in-depth characterisation. And, it doesn’t even have to be about you, or someone you know who will probably sue you if they find themselves in your book. Writers have always conducted research i.e., looked for information in newspaper articles, studies, conducting interviews etc. You have millions of blogs where, say you actually wanted to write a truthful representation of millennials, you could have a balanced understanding of them which you wouldn’t find in some magazine article that only consulted a handful to represent a generation. It is not just enough to resolve to commit words to a page, it is important that they are truthful to what they are talking about.

Daydreaming is a very important source for creativity. It is when you are coming up with stories without the pressure of having to put them down. Because there are no considerations to bear while daydreaming, such as characters or storylines, you often find some version of yourself in these stories. For example, I have sometimes imagined myself as The Doctor in Doctor Who. Mainly, because I’d be hopelessly dead-too-soon if I were a companion, and because being a TimeLady would give me much more to do, now that I have certain powers. If I work on this, I might even come up with a full-fledged story that would be very different from any of the other Doctors’. At the same time, because I am not an actual TimeLady, any resemblance that I personally bear to this character would not make the slightest difference to whether it works in the story. I’d have done a Mary Sue to a Doctor Who, but no one would care.

Do you write yourself in your story?


Writer, Blogger, Kate Bush Fanatic

8 thoughts on “Of Writing Yourself in Your Story

  1. It wouldn’t be a Woody Allen movie without the “Woody Allen” character in it, would it? Lena Dunham is a newer model, but I’m actually a big fan.

    I don’t intentionally write myself into my stories, but I definitely use bits and pieces of other people’s personalities.

    1. But, we can’t be making deliberate choices like that, can we? I only see the resemblance after I write it down. Anyway, wouldn’t it be more original and interesting to write about people you know, albeit loosely, than yet another Katniss clone?

      1. True. I’m sure parts of my personality come out in the characters, as well. I love to borrow from people’s quirks and personality traits and habits, it helps make a believable character. I don’t think I could write anything like Katniss, I guess my characters need to be a bit more like me…a bit more flawed 🙂

  2. This was a very interesting post to read. The main character in the story I’m currently writing does share some personality traits but she isn’t a reflection of me either. In many ways her character represents the side of my personality that is often hidden, as she is more bold and confident than I have ever been. (I hope that makes sense) 🙂

    1. Thank you, Melis! And don’t worry, that is how many, many people go about it. I often find myself doing the same, at least in my daydreams, and I don’t see what the harm is. Perhaps, if it was too close to who you are, you may even be afraid of showing your writing to the world.

  3. Uh oh…whiny New Yorkers..I better tread carefully with my response here 🙂
    Seriously though, this is one of your best pieces I think. A very well articulated thought and one I might keep in mind because I have been contemplating adding a fiction portion to my blog. I did a couple of very short fiction prompts last year and got a good response, so it might be something to think about. I think it perhaps inevitable when writing fiction (or TV, or movies) that some element of yourself will go into the story. I think a case might be made for this happening with the first bits of writing anyone does, If they are a good writer and continue to write more and different stories, I think what may have been once only thinly masked and veiled as being about the writers personality becomes much harder to spot the better and more comfortable one becomes with writing.

    1. True. Otherwise the writer would risk repeating himself. Or it could work by keeping that one identifiable character fixed, as they do in so many series, and change the environment, i.e. characters and situations as much as possible. It all depends on what the writer finds interesting, and if writing a version of himself is no longer interesting to himself and his readers, he’d definitely look elsewhere for inspiration.

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