How to Disappear
When writing a novel it is said that we put ourselves in some small or great way into the story. In one sense this is unavoidable. It is our story and when we take possession in that way, the words reflect ourselves whether it is an outstanding personality characteristic or something more notable ,say…literally ourselves.
Of course in memoirs and autobiography the aim is to capture the essence of you but in fiction there will be times when you want to distance yourself from the characters themselves for fear of turning one of them into you or someone you know. Don’t get me wrong , taking real world personalities and transplanting them into your story can be a hell of a lot of fun. Especially if that person you know carries larger than life traits that fit well with stars of a novel. But if it is a separation that you require then there are ways to achieve this.
The best way to begin this distancing is to start with a logical choice of narrative. If you choose first person you are more likely to put aspects of your personality strait into the characters head as your protagonist will be the narrator. Sometimes it pays to look at your characters from distance. This is where third person narrative allows characters to flourish a little more in their own way. You can distance yourself from them because you, as narrator, are in effect ‘standing in the corner’ (creepy I know). And finally you can add distance to yourself and your characters again by using an omniscient third person narrative or ‘the gods eye’ view. If you were to draw the names of your main characters on a sheet of paper and look down at them as they lay on a desk. This is the perspective the omniscient narrative provides – you can essentially jump from character to character just make sure you don’t confuse the reader with too much ‘head-hopping’.
When the distancing has begun, you can develop your characters without the same old fallbacks. An old fallback for me was that I might often start a protagonist in an early morning scene. It seemed like a natural place to start because that is the way I start my day every day doing some morning routine. I have at times put this on my characters without even thinking about it. It is the ability you have to go against the grain and start in a way that you wouldn’t, that may help you to create more original characters. This is not to say that your personality is not needed or original. It is your mind that drives the book after all but the last thing you want are a half dozen copies of yourself. There is far more around you to draw from than that. You just have to see it.
And finally once this distancing has begun. How do you disappear? Well it could be said that you never truly will. Something in each and every one of your characters will say something about you however there is a way to break new ground and get closer to this illusion. Again this is very much from the head of a novice but the key is in the very characters you choose to write about. How do they differ from you? I was once told ‘You write well as a woman’ – that is to say my female characters in one particular story were believable women. As a kilt wearing, haggis eating, red-blooded male I took it as a compliment. In fairness I have been surrounded by women throughout my life and currently answer to at least four of them. If anything I have learned of their ways, rituals and strange customs.
It is not a matter of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes because then you are still there. The trick is to be them for five minutes, or ten minutes or however long it takes. Don’t think about your own daily rituals but make these characters do something you would never do and say something you would never say. Do this and you will disappear.