Thursday, 28 May 2015

Thinking of making the protagonist in your novel a writer? You should read this first!

“All art is autobiographical; the pearl is the oyster's autobiography.” - Federico Fellini

The above quote has always been a favourite of mine, I wholeheartedly believe that it's impossible to separate an artist from their work. Our creations are mere extensions of ourselves, borne of the sum of our individual experiences. This is most apparent in literature, where the drive to pick up the pen stems directly from our own egotistical view that we have a story to tell and an audience who will listen.

So when penning a first novel it can seem tempting to allow your protagonist to follow the same career path as you, that of the writer. After all, “write what you know”. The most oft heard yet misunderstood quote in relation to writing. I've read countless submissions with authors and writers as protagonists but they always throw up unnecessary complications for the audience.

When the protagonist is a successful author, I the reader, am led to believe the actual author considers themselves successful, or at least worthy of success. When the protagonist is a struggling author, scraping together the money for rent, I the reader, think of the actual author 'Oh boo hoo, poor you, perhaps if you wrote better books you wouldn't be penniless.' Either way they can't win.

Writing prose about the process of writing prose is downright incestuous. If I want to read literary theory I will find a non-fiction book for that. Similarly if I wanted to read transcripts of phone calls to agents and publishers I'd... well I'd have an agent or a publisher.

The life of an author can be fascinating, but the actual grinding process of writing isn't. Once you remove that from the equation your protagonist might as well be a freelance vivisectionist.

“Write what you know” should refer to emotions and experiences, personal relationships, hardships and triumphs, not the events that led up to them.

I'm sometimes asked whether I am one of the main characters in my novel. To which I nearly always reply “I am all of my characters, and all of them are me.” I am also the locations, the fears and frustrations, the tone, the colour and the words that are unsaid as much as the ones that appear on the page. What I am not in my books, or at least that which I try to hide most, is an author.

“The views expressed in this article do not represent those of mjmeads.com and any inference to books or authors past or present is purely coincidental.”

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