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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Autobiographical First Novels

Blog Tour Buddies: Today I'm over at Ralene Burke's blog, so please stop by!

I've been thinking about something lately...self-imposed writer's block. A young lady wrote in to me the other day, which got me thinking about this. Her character sketch fairly screamed of autobiography, and I pointed this out in a private email to her.

She 'fessed up and said that yes, the character was basically her, as were the situations she was putting the poor girl through. After hearing the old adage, "you write what you know" enough, I got to thinking that perhaps all authors need to write this autobiographical masterpiece (of sorts) in order to get past the writer's block it can create.

I've heard it said that most authors' first book has a main character very much like the author. I know mine did. In fact, I might as well have called her Jeannie. (As it was, I used my middle name. And, consequently, all the characters in the book--every one--went by the middle names of the real people associated with me.) Rookie mistake.

But this was the book that screamed in my head for me to write it. I was helpless against it's persuasion. I also know that this book will never see the light of day to anyone--and I do mean anyone (even my crit partners, Katie and Sarah). Seriously. Heinous stuff.

But once it was typed out...and hidden away in a corner of my hard drive reserved for cobwebs and dust bunnies, my creative mind exploded with other things to write about. I wasn't fixated on my own profession or my own hobbies or pet peeves that I felt like my characters had to have. Writing the autobiographical novel freed me to really find myself.

Q4U: What about you? Was your first book--even if it was fantasy or historical or what-have-you--set up to present a character very much like you front and center? Why do you suppose that is? Surely it's more than the "Write what you know" proverb. I'd love to hear your thoughts....and NO, not so I can analyze them. :0)


Dr. Cheryl Carvajal said...

It was my first full-length play, actually. And it still is terrible. But I think all of my works--both plays and novels--are attempts to work on issues and problems I've encountered, often with parents and family members.

I'm hoping some day to get to the point that my writing doesn't just suck. Perhaps I have a bit more writing therapy to go through before I get there.

Anonymous said...

I AM working on my first novel. And my lead female character IS reeking of me. Guilty! It does seem very pressing to me to write this. I only yesterday started getting ideas for other books. Before that, this one story and character were taking up my entire field of vision. Hopefully it doesn't stink so bad that I can't get it published. lol

WriterGirl said...

I'm working on my first novel now. I have to say though I don't think my MC is anything much like me. I sort of made her sister more like me and then killed her off on page 1. That sort of settled it for me. I don't think writing yourself is necessarily a bad thing though, look at The Bell Jar!

Kristen said...

My first book was me, with a few improvements that I'd like to make on myself, but yes, basically me.

Sherri Hunt Smith said...

guilty.... but I love my character

Tonya said...


Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

kristen -

my first book was me improved. i let my character do the things i wish i had done, say the things i wish i had said, ask for forgiveness from the very people i wish i hadn't hurt and was too proudful at the time to ask forgiveness from. there's nothing wrong with that! it's so therapeutic. it was a healing novel for me to write.

Jeff King said...

I am still on my fist book, and its pure fun. Sure, when I first started the character took on my attributes and attitude. But that all changes a few chapters in, I am proud to say he is his own man. I hope I don’t interject myself into the story on any level.

Mary@GigglesandGuns said...

I wrote this baby years ago, before we all had hard drives. Thank the writing gods, it was destroyed by a flood!
What does that tell you?

Katrina S. Forest said...

I had a series of short stories I wrote in college that were very clearly me working through this major transition in my life. Amusingly enough, my autobiographical character annoyed the heck out of me.

I always feel awkward when I sense that I'm critiquing an autobiographical piece. If I think the MC is acting like an idiot, well, I can't really say that without feeling like I'm calling the author an idiot.

You can be wrong, sometimes, though. I had someone tell me that we both "knew" who a certain character was supposed to be in one of my stories, when in truth, I had only written said character to be the polar opposite of me.

Anonymous said...

My first novel is totally autobiographical. Fictional memoir. I'm working on rewrite and revisions to make it a little less obvious.

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