Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Tuesday 9 April 2013

have you ever put yourself as a character in a story?

"Blog idea - have you ever put yourself as a character in a story, or are all the characters versions of Nik?" asks Benjamin Rogers @Bertjammin

Finally, a question about writing!

Character is a tricky business, because, as a writer, everyone I know thinks they must be a character in one of my books. 

It’s not so bad when I write about elves or space men, but when I’m writing about sex or parenting... Well, you can guess how tough some of those questions can be to answer.

Fiction is fiction for a reason, though.

When I went to a networking party of editors to talk about Naming Names, I was asked over and over again if I had a background in psychology. I was asked because the novel is about maternal sexual abuse. I don’t have a background in psychology, I have a background in writing fiction! And there simply came a time when I wanted to shout it. No, I didn’t have a background in psychology... and I hadn’t been abused, either.

If I’d been promoting Savant, which is SF, no one would have asked me if I had a background in space travel. If I’d been promoting Prom Queen, which is Fantasy, no one would have asked me if I’d ever passed through a time portal into a fairytale land of ugly sisters and royal balls.

You take my point, I’m sure.

Writing character is like that.

When I wrote Naming Names, I not only had to conjure a character who had been abused, I also had to put myself somewhat in her shoes, because I was writing the novel in the first person. Of course that wasn’t easy, and of course it’s a colossal leap. It was a tough job to do, and I hope I’ve done the character justice. 

I’m not sure a psychologist could have written this book, though, because it’s not a case study. I think it’s critical to go beyond what can be thought of as real to find what might be thought of as the truth, to imagine minutiae to make a story like this work. God and the Devil, both, are in the details. I think you need both. The central character in this novel isn’t someone I know. She doesn’t look like anyone I know, although I have cast her for the movie, in my head, and she doesn’t sound like anyone I know. Oddly, though, her voice did come to me very early on in the writing of this novel. She did start to speak to me. I couldn’t have known a person like this and write about her, and, honestly, I don't know that a person like this really exists, but she did have to live in my heart for me to be able to write about some of the things I felt I needed to write about to make the story work.

Savant, although SF, is actually a novel about parenting. I’m a mother, and I feel strongly about parenting. I loved, and love being a mother, and, if anything, it’s the one job that has ever really mattered to me. Failing as a writer stings much less for me on the days that I feel I succeeded as a mother.

I suppose because of that, when I was writing the character of Metoo in Savant, I often thought about what the very best parent would do in any given situation. Of course, that’s not the same as thinking about what I would do, but it might be the same as thinking about what I wish I’d been capable of doing on my very best day. I suppose a lot of Metoo’s values are mine in some perfect, holistic way, if I were a saint, which, of course, I’m not, and which, actually I’d never want to be, because what poor child could ever endure being raised by a saint? And what poor child could ever live up to that parent or her expectations? 

You see... This is fiction and basing a fictional character on myself would just be too weird! I'm too... Too... Well I'm just too something to be translatable... by me at least.

I’m now beginning to wonder whether I’ve ever written a novel from the point of view of an omniscient narrator? And if I haven’t why I haven’t? and whether perhaps I should? Then I’d certainly be a character in my own novel. Hmmm.

I haven’t really answered the question, either. Have I ever put myself as a character in a story? Or are all the characters versions of Nik?

My honest answers to those questions are Nope, and not so far as I know. I haven’t put anyone else I know as a character into one of my books either. There are ‘types’, of course, bits of people, expressions, motives, traits. Kat Adler in Addled Kat, for example, looks exactly like a girl I was at school with. I have scavenged, but I certainly haven’t portrayed anyone wholesale. I don’t think of real people when I think of characters.

Also, I have the happy advantage of not needing to write myself as a character into my novels, because the husband does that for me. 

I’m going to let you into a secret, now.

I have a condition called Bruxism. Lots of people have it, it isn’t rare, but it is quite rare to have it quite as severely as I do. The character Merrt, in the Gaunt’s Ghosts, novels has it too. So, I am Merrt.

I am also, much more glamorously and impressively, Alizabeth Bequin. How could I possibly top that?

Oh, that gives me an idea... I really must write the husband into something... Crikey! That’ll be fun!


  1. In role playing terms, this is generally frowned upon...

    But I have done some fiction writing based on character I played in an RPG. Not quite the same thing, but I did have an easier time getting into their motivations.

  2. I think the fact we're social animals makes it inevitable that bits of other people end up in our writing. How often do we find ourselves using a certain turn of phrase we've picked up just because someone else uses it all the time? And how better to give a character a distinct voice than to steal someone's distinct voice?

  3. I sometimes think that characters I have created are or behave or think like I might if certain elements of my personality were removed or subdued, like compassion for example. Even if we were to base a character on a person we know or even on ourselves, they still might not be recognisable because it would be our perception of those people or of ourselves, which isn't necessarily the same as everyone elses perception.