Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Mother-In-Law Is Me

Before you think I’m going to trip you up on some convoluted riddle (you know, my brother’s uncle’s sister’s aunt’s mom is the relative of my monkey’s uncle – what?) I’ll tell you what the title of this post is all about. I’ve included a mother-in-law in my women’s fiction novel (under agent review). She’s pernickety and particular. I thoroughly enjoyed writing about her obsession with having to close all drawers and cabinets before she’s able to fall asleep.

Get this: the other night I’m in my bed and something is niggling at me. I get up and go over to my cherry stained dresser. Some t-shirts were peeking out of a few drawers. I tucked them back in and closed the drawers, feeling satisfied I could go to sleep. Yikes: The Mother-In-Law Was ME! As you’re reading this, you can probably guess that wasn’t as dramatic of a surprise to me as I just made it out to be. However, isn’t that one of the best parts about writing—drawing out bits and pieces of yourself and adapting them into your characters appropriately?

One of my favorite quotes on writing is from Stephen King’s, On Writing. He writes, “I think you will find that, if you continue to write fiction, every character you create is partly you.” I’d love to learn your thoughts on this – do you agree? Disagree?

As a side, my mother tells me all the time she thinks I’d make a good counselor because of my fascination in people, my empathy and my longing to help others. I try to explain to her that there is so much psychology in writing. Sometimes, instead of calling myself a writer, I wish I could say, “I’m a student of people. I study people. I’m a connoisseur of humans.” Okay, I had a little too much fun with that. Anyway, I believe to write well you need to have a firm grasp on people. You need to know typical behavioral responses, psychological reasoning, defense mechanisms, etc. These things aren’t difficult to discover or learn about. In my case, with the mother-in-law, I just looked inward.

But isn’t studying people fun? Isn’t it part of the enigmatic lure and seduction of writing?

Writers: Do you believe every character you create is partly you?

Readers: Are you able to find some way to identify with every character you read about?

*photo by flickr


  1. Wendy, thank you so much for your kind comment on my blog this morning! And best to you on your own path. :)

    I see the truth in both these things. DEFINITELY agree with King's perception about unleashing ourselves in fiction. (Great, great book.) I know each character I've written has some small snippet of me... or who I'd like to be.

    And I LOVE to people watch. A great satisfaction and knowledge comes from it, I think.

    Great post!

  2. Yes, I agree wholeheartedly. Some characters are more me than others...but when we write from our own heart/voice/mind...then 'we' are bound to seep in. Great story in this post!

  3. Yes! Oh yes, every character has a piece of me. Some of them are more than I could ever hope to be. They say things I would never have the guts to! Thanks for a great post!

  4. Every character I write about does have a bit of me in them--some more, some less. I don't hink I would kno whow to write them if they didn't. I hope the agent loves your work:)

  5. Stephen is absolutely right, as always. My first novel, Shannon's Mirror, is about a girl who struggles with anorexia. People often asked me whether the book was autobiographical; I would answer that, while I've never had an eating disorder, Shannon is me. But so is her mother, her brother, her boyfriend, etc. There's a bit of me in every character I create.

  6. I suppose since we breathe life into our characters, we can expect them to reflect quite a bit of us. And isn't that the same with our Creator? He's multi-faceted and yet we all carry his fingerprint in some way!

  7. LOL OMGoodness I cannot sleep unless every drawer in my bedroom is shut and there are no clothes peeking up at me! My DH thinks I'm nuts. Now I can happily tell him it is normal condition not some strange phenomenon ;) And yes everything in my life goes into the filtered lens of my keyboard. All the people in my life should beware!

  8. Lol! I'd say not all my characters (at least not the subcharacters) have a part of me. But the main ones do a lot of the time. Sometimes it's characteristics but a lot of times it talents or lack of talent, or things they've done that come from real life things I've done.

  9. I very much agree that every character we create has a part of ourselves meshed inside of them. Some more so than others--or more overtly, whatever the case may be. :)

    As a reader, it's the character's voice that determines whether or not I can bond with them.

  10. Girl, You are speaking my love language!! Yes, I do believe that to be a good writer you have to have a good grasp on people and personalities. I also believe that you have to be a contemplator.
    What a wonderful post!! Keep pondering and challenging us to look a little deeper inside ourselves to discover what the Lord desires to create in our writing and ministry to Him be the glory. Thanks for your sweet post on my blog.

  11. Yes, I agree that all my characters are partly me. What else do I have to draw from to make characters with any depth? It's draining, that's for sure!

  12. Wow, what a thought provoking question. I think most of my main characters do have a bit of me in them. However, the thought of my villains being even a very small part of me is a bit disturbing. I must have taken their traits from old news stories or something :)

  13. Well girl - you've been liking my posts and I've been liking yours right back! I loved your little connoseier (spelling's way off, but I'm too lazy to go check how you spelled it) of humans! I totally understand you! I could sit and people watch all day! I told my husband, while we ate the salad bar at our local grocery store the other night, that I wish I could be invisible so I could just stare at people. As a visible being, there's only so much staring I can do before I start to creep people out. My husband was like, "Kate, everybody is just eating? What is there to stare at?" He didn't understand my fascination with the elderly couple eating mashed potatoes and fried chicken two booths down. But they were seriously intriguing me!

    I can't write characters unless I'm able to identify with them in some way. Halarious about the drawer thing, by the way. :)

  14. Janna, I'm excited to read more on your blog. People watching is satisfying, isn't it?

    Tess, I liked how you wrote we are bound to SEEP in.

    Jill, ohhh...I like that. I'm going to have to have my characters start saying more that I wouldn't dare say. :D

    Terri, thanks for the hope...I hope so too, but I remain still and waiting on God.

    Luisa, sounds like a novel I might read. Shannon is my daughter's name. :D

    Jody, I love how you tied God into this thought!

    T. Anne, I don't know about normal. :D We both are just a tad bit off. :D Okay, you'll have to fill me into this cool speak, what is DH?

    Cindy, I liked your fresh perspective. It makes me want to ask you more questions about those subcharacters.

    Danyelle, I agree about character's voice. I didn't expect to like Peace Like a River as much as I did...but the voice blew me away!!!

    Liz, I've got the contemplating thing down. Your post today was very MOVING.

    Lady, you find it draining? Sometimes I like releasing things out into my characters. It sort of frees me of whatever that particular thing is...hard to explain. Or is the tough stuff that's draining, the soul-searching stuff?

    Amy, I always think to get a really good villain it helps to make them soft/vulnerable in some relatable way...have you found this?

    Katie, you know your just writing about that elderly couple eating chicken makes me want to know more about them! I get you! I do my best to be a little crazy just to make everyone laugh. :D

    By your comments tonight I was craving a sit down with every single one of you. The conversations we could have!!!

    God Bless!
    ~ Wendy

  15. Maybe that's a reflection of "Write what you know," the line that so many writers abide by. Putting something of our "selves" in each character makes them a little familiar to us, helping us to gauge their reactions, choices, etc. as we write. Great topic going on here!

  16. What a great, thought-provoking question! I never thought of it quite that way before. Maybe thinking of my newest MC in this way will help me get to know him better. Thank you!

  17. Joanne, strong observation.

    Trisha, I loved the question on your blog yesterday.


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