Novel Writing: Should your protagonist be autobiographical?

Photo Credit: Cinderella in Combat Boots

I’ve written extensively about the fact that my protagonist from my first book is me. He’s more funny and probably smarter, but he’s still me. I’ve also read blog posts and articles in the past that say the practice of creating a fictional character who takes after the author is not all that uncommon, especially when it comes to first books. Two authors who come to mind when I think of this practice are Sue Grafton and JK Rowling. Sue Grafton and her fictional California-based PI are one in the same. I believe, though I’m not checking right this second, that JK Rowling and Harry Potter share a birthday.

My reasoning for doing this had only to do with the fact that I felt it would make the story better. I wanted to put myself in Andrew’s shoes every step of the way during that first case. I wanted him to face some internal dilemma that couldn’t be seen from the surface. I wanted him to be real. And I wanted the reader to be able to relate to him. I have no idea how well I was able to do this in my first book, but it was constantly on my mind as those 21 chapters were written.

So now you know that Andrew Banks is really just John Guillen in disguise, but what about you? Have you written a protagonist who perhaps shares some characteristics with you? Or who maybe shares something like a birthday with you? Tell me!

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24 thoughts on “Novel Writing: Should your protagonist be autobiographical?

  1. While Rowling and Harry share a birthday, she’s said that Hermione is loosely based on her as a child. So you’re right that she wrote herself into the book, but she still created her protagonist from her imagination.

    I didn’t intentionally base my protagonist off of myself in my first manuscript, but my husband and friends have said she’s a lot like me. She’s spunky and speaks her mind, but I don’t think she’s necessarily based on me. I guess that’s how I see other women.

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    • Hmm. I didn’t know that about Hermione. But I’m no expert. Thanks for the insight.

      That’s interesting. Maybe it even happens when we’re not mindfully trying to make it so?

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      • I think it does to an extent because the way we think is hard to ignore. If I think the ‘logical’ way to respond to x is with y, my character will do y. But you might think z is the proper way to respond and by that logic, my character is an extension of me because (s)he will do y.

        It’s an interesting way to think about how well you know an author after reading their work.

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      • Yep. A character will always be an extension of the person who created him or her. I still enjoy reading characters written as different versions of the author.

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  2. Tis easier to do if your protagonist is the same sex. My main character is female, so there have to be differences, even though she believes in a lot of the same things I personally do. That said, your characters will always have some of “you” in them..how not? Even if you write a character 180 off from you, you had to base that on…you. 🙂

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  3. My characters always have some of me in them, sometimes more or sometimes less. I find I can write characters based on different phases of my life. That is where age and experience come in handy. Writing a female character is likely least competent aspect of my writing.

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    • I think I’ll be the same way once I have some more writing under my belt. And I actually like a female character who will likely remain throughout my Andrew Banks series more than I like him. I mean, I love them both, but she came out exactly how I planned at the beginning. Of course, the story isn’t told from her perspective so maybe that plays into how much I like her.

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  4. The main character in my middle grade fantasy series is nothing like me. Because I’m nowhere near as gutsy or brash as she is. I’m more the best friend. It helps because I can commiserate with the friend who is forever frustrated over the main character’s antics.

    On the other hand, I am writing a different book where I am very much the protagonist, at least physically. Again, she is more outspoken and brave, but there are a lot of elements of me.

    It’s fun sometimes to pull out the things we love best about ourselves, but that means we also have to be honest about our failings. It’s a conundrum.

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  5. I think at heart every character has a part of us at their center. Whether it be an idea we subscribe to or an idea we hate about others, whatever it is it’s something we react to. The point of character creation to me is to get someone up and walking around that may have started out as me but become their own person. In my dreams my character and I aren’t one and the same but two different beings walking side by side. Cheers, love your little provoking thoughts.

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    • That’s quite the philosophy. I think if I ever get away from writing Andrew Banks that I may do something like that. The character has a part of me but has his or her own identity at the same time.

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  6. I’ve actually based a couple of characters on myself during several periods of my life, if not just some characteristics, and found that it’s a great way to get the ball rolling

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  7. In my short story “Bingo and the Gown” I found a deep attachment to the main character Bingo. Then I realized he was emotionally like me. 😉 Thank you for stopping by my blog. Look forward to reading your posts,

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  8. All my protagonists are extensions of me–I come in many forms.

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  9. I believe it is true that author do share some aspects of themselves when the main character of their book. I know I did with Nikki in my first book. I find do that is liberating.

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  10. Reblogged this on Cronin Detzz "Writer's Block" and commented:
    My current WIP will have a protagonist partially based on my attitude when I was a teenager. Do you write yourself into your protagonist?

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