Last week I took a break from being melancholy and decided to put my emotion to good use in the form of being bitter instead. What a transformation I’ve undergone. Largely my blog post was me focusing in on the idea of the ‘true story,’ and doing it for the wholly wrong reasons. It wasn’t one of my favorite blog posts, but I really enjoyed the thought-provoking emails and messages you all sent me in response, so I thought I’d expand on this theme of using the self in the story. This week, let’s talk about the self-insert.
The ‘true story’ is, to me, a form of bragging. You’re either writing a true story because you found the story itself too interesting not to share, or because you want to show off that an event involving sex happened to you. Some kind of weird locker room talk or something. High five, bro, congrats on the sex.
Self-inserts have a bit more anonymity to them. It’s not inherently obvious that a character you insert is a direct representation of you, unless your writer handle is TheThomasAnderson87 and the protagonist in your story is named Thomas Anderson. At that point, you want it to be known that the character is you. I can’t imagine why – I’ve read stories like that, where the story is fiction but the author inserted themselves, usually as the protagonist who gets lots of sex, anyway. It both has the braggart quality where you’re showing off how much cool sex you’re getting, but confusingly, it also has the fictitious nature to it. So… you’re showing off how much sex you would be getting in a fictional world? Why does the story have to be about you?
That question isn’t rhetorical, by the way. If you have a valid answer to it, by all means. I know one erotica writer who makes theirself their protagonist, and I asked him that exact question. His answer was, “I’m not confident enough in my writing chops to write from any perspective other than my own. It’s just easier to make myself the protagonist.” Good for him. Genuinely, good job. He has a good reason, and while I wish he believed in himself more, he’s writing according to not only his weaknesses, but his strengths too. Self-insertion is a solution to him, as opposed to a problem.
It’s not always bad, for sure, but it does make the reader question why, and you won’t always be around to explain to your reader why you, DavidIsWriting, called his protagonist David. Most of the time people are just going to assume you’re an egoist. Sometimes they have no clue why. I remember a writer once who made a ‘true story’ about theirself and at the end of the story, said that the story’s protagonist (I don’t remember the name so let’s say the protagonist was named George) would return in another story as ‘Frank.’ …Why? Why rename a character if you’ve admitted it’ll just be the same guy? Did you think at first you should protect your anonymity then decide to embrace it being you? Perhaps the other way around? Maybe his answer is valid. But for now, I don’t know, and it just puzzled me. It didn’t make me want to read his next story much. As mentioned previously, names mean a lot to me. I got attached to George. I didn’t get attached to any ‘Frank.’ It seems pointles.
One fellow erotica author pointed out to me recently that all characters are, to an extent, self-insertion. In order to write you have to be conscious and have your own thought process. Writing a character is essentially acting, pretending. You’re pretending to think from another’s perspective. Some are more successful than others, but no one is 100% successful with this. I will definitely admit that a lot of my characters share traits with me. (Let’s just ignore the elephant in the room that around 90% of my characters are scumbags.) Adam Watson, for instance, probably started out as some kind of caricature of how I viewed myself in grade nine. Too anxious, too indifferent to the world around me, etc. Is Adam self-insertion then? Is self-insertion not a black-or-white value, but instead a range? When does a character become original and lose the weight of just being a self-insertion? How do you write characters to ensure this? I really don’t know. My writing process is having my imagination play out the events then writing down what I see. Truth be told, I have very little creative oversight over my own stuff, but more on that another time. For now, even though I naturally dislike ‘true stories’ at this point, I would say that the self-inserted character is not an inherently bad technique. Write about people you know. If you know yourself better than others, that’s valid. If you still need to practice writing from another perspective, that’s valid. Hell, if you have a unique personality trait and want to make a character out of that, that’s valid too. Don’t be ashamed of the methods you use to write. Just write. I’ll talk to you all next week.