Should authors channel their personalities and experiences into their characters?
It took me five novels to ask this question, and when I did, I realized something. My protagonists are pretty much alike, and for the most part, they have my values. I even share a few experiences with them, and friends who know me well say my characters reflect my personality at times. I believe it’s natural to reveal your experiences, thoughts, and beliefs through your characters, but I do this sparingly. My protagonists are younger, braver and more cunning than I am. They find themselves in situations I hope never to face and react as only they could.
It’s obviously not necessary for authors to share the values of their protagonists, but I’ve found it makes it easier to get inside the heads of my fictional characters and to have them think and act naturally. Consistency is important in making characters believable. What better way to stay consistent than creating characters who think like you? I know the counterargument is that truly great authors can relate to any character they create. Stephen King isn’t a maniacal killer, and my guess is he wouldn’t be friends with many of the bizarrely malevolent characters he’s created, yet he’s been successful in producing suspenseful thrillers for many years.
I’ve written short stories where the protagonists are greedy brokers, thieves, or even pets. I’ve never been any of these. I admit it’s more difficult to develop these diverse characters and have them think and act consistently throughout the story. I often find my personality working its way into their character, requiring revisions. Still, I enjoy the challenge and have received contest recognition for some of these stories.
Some authors have had successful careers creating characters that make repeat appearances in their novels: Michael Connelly has Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller, Sue Grafton created Kinsey Millhone, and even though John Grisham varies their names, many of his characters are crafty male attorneys. I haven’t spoken to Connelly, Grafton, or Grisham, but I expect they easily relate to the characters they’ve created. Connelly was a crime beat reporter in Los Angeles, where Bosch is a criminal detective and Haller an attorney. Grisham was a successful criminal defense lawyer before writing legal thrillers.
Miles Stevens, Sam Stone and Phil Greenfield are the protagonists in my novels. I can easily see them sitting down for a cup of coffee, discussing their adventures. They have a lot in common with each other and apparently, with me, too. I’ve concluded that’s a good thing.
Protagonists in D.R. Shoultz novels:
Miles Stevens is the lead character in the Miles Stevens Series, which includes MELTNG SAND, CYBER ONE, and GONE VIRAL (to be released in 2017). Miles is a 37-year-old Yale law grad and former U.S senator who gives up his political career after the tragic deaths of his daughter and wife. He turns to the CIA and the recently formed Department of Historic Intervention (DHI) as a way to escape his grief. A strong, tough-minded CIA agent, Miles and his DHI partners are sent back in time from the year 2050 to alter historic disasters.
Sam Stone, the lead character in CORRUPT CONNECTION, is at the peak of his career, recently widowed and losing interest in life, when he meets Dr. Britney Young, a recently hired, beautiful and brilliant researcher at MemOne, Inc. Sam is a low-profile, self-confident, fit but not athletic, 48-year-old sales executive when he’s thrown into the role of protecting Britney and MemOne from a deadly drug cartel. Britney and the company’s biocomputer technology are targeted by the cartel to advance their illegal drug trafficking. Fearing the threats against Britney, Sam works alone as he transforms into a fearless guardian and investigator.
Phil Greenfield is a handsome, silver-haired, divorced, 60-year-old retiree and the main character in BETTER LATE THAN EVER. Phil sells his successful technology firm and retires to The Glades, a futuristic retirement community in Florida, seeking maintenance-free living, unlimited golf and sunsets by the pool. Instead, he discovers the residents are fixated on reclaiming their youth through an underworld of medications and surgical procedures. Phil meets an old flame, Sue, and the flame is rekindled. Looking much younger than her age, Phil learns Sue is also under the influence of these drugs. Tempted to join Sue and the others on their youthful journey, Phil becomes suspicious that there’s more to the story of The Glades. Unfortunately, he is right.