Monday, January 23, 2012

How Much Of You Is In Your Books? - a frequently asked question

I get a lot of tweets and emails from readers asking questions about my books and my characters. I think one of the most frequently asked is, "How much of you is in your books?" or "How much like Bianca and Lissa are you?" or "Did this really happen to you?" or variations thereof. I always answer these questions individually as they come in, but I thought, since I've taken a vow to blog more, that it might be something worth blogging about.

There's a short answer and a long answer to these questions. The short answer is, "My books are fiction and therefore entirely made up." But the long answer is a little, well, longer.

I'll start with THE DUFF because I get the most questions about it. Honestly, when it first came out, one of my biggest fears was that my family would think it was autobiographical in some way. It is not. At all. Not only was there no Wesley and no Toby and no sex in my life - I was too much of a prude at seventeen to even think about sleeping with anyone - but I was also nothing like Bianca. I was a romantic, not a cynic, and I was very open about my feelings, while she's a bottler. Actually, it kind of made writing her hard because I was so used to just telling my friends how I felt, where Bianca keeps things tightly locked up.

Not only that, but I was never blatantly told I was a "duff." Sure, I felt like it sometimes - I think everyone does - but no one ever told me I was ugly or fat in high school. I had a "best friend" who subtly bullied me into believing I was unattractive, but she never came out and said it. I did have a friend who had been called a "duff," which is how I heard the word and what eventually led to the idea. But it wasn't my experience at all.

The only real thing Bianca and I have in common is that we both had two really wonderful friends who stuck my us. Mine were not cheerleaders, nor were they blond, but I loved them and they stuck by me (note: neither of them is the one who bullied me). My friends are very different from Casey and Jessica, but their love and support inspired me to give Bianca those kind of friends - not the frenemies we so frequently see in YA and on TV.

So how much of Bianca is like me? Very, very little. Which is why it is sometimes both frustrating and amusing when I see people making assumptions that Bianca is a fictional version of me. She's not, and I'm glad she's not. I think I'd be very disappointed in myself if I were that bitter all the time. I love Bianca, don't get me wrong, but I tend to find myself on the happy-side of life a lot more than she does.

Now, here is the funny end, though. Appearance. I have been told SO OFTEN that I "look" like Bianca. It always makes me giggle because there is so little about her appearance in the book aside from her wavy auburn hair, her small breasts, and the fact that she *thinks* she's overweight. I have my own image of Bianca in my head - she looks something like Ellen Page in Juno, but with slightly reddish hair. My best friend, on the other hand, sees Bianca totally differently and gets mad when I mention Ellen Page. I don't think I look anything like Bianca, personally, though I am frequently told I look lie the girl on the cover. (Actually, my own father that it was me on the cover, no joke. That is depressing.) I am NOT on the cover, I swear! And, personally, that girl doesn't look like my version of Bianca - though she does look like a few of my friends' versions of her.

What's funny is, I get asked so often how much Bianca is like me, maybe because she's in my first published book, but fewer people ask about Lissa. Though, when I really think about it, Lissa is the most like me of the two.

Not in appearance. Lissa is all blue eyes and straight black hair - so not me. But our personalities are similar. We both love books, we both tend to be pretty girl about our clothing, and we are both -groan- neurotic.

Okay, I'm no where NEAR as neurotic as Lissa - she's straight up OCD - but I empathize with her anxiety. What's funny about that, though, is that she was so different in my frist draft. Her anxieties came later, with revision. The original version of Lissa was laid back and confident and funny - all great treats, but it didn't work with the story. Her neuroses developed over time and eventually I realized that my anxiety had trickled into her - only in a much more heightened sense.

Aside from those things, Lissa and I are quite different. Someone once asked me in an interview if I thought we'd be friends in real life, and I don't think we would. Despite our commonalities, we are from very different social spheres. I wasn't friends with any jocks in high school. I was on the Academic Team and in the drama club. I never would have been in a position to end a sports rivalry.

Thinking about it now, its funny to realize what parts of you trickle into your writing. Sometimes I think it's the parts we least expect. With Bianca, as dramatically different as we are, I can see a little spark of me in her - the me that comes out after a really bad day, maybe. The bitter side of me that rarely shows - that I rarely think about - trickles through with her, and its funny to me because I didn't realize I even had that occasional bitter side until right after I finished the book. With Lissa, the anxiety issues were definitely not something I ever thought I'd see in her, and then one day they were there and I realized how much I related her her stress. These aren't parts of me I'd necessarily WANT in any of my characters, but they're there.

Does that mean my characters are based on me? God no. But I do have this theory that every writer has to put a tiny bit of themselves into their characters, just to keep it relatable. It could be something as small as a fear of spiders or as a big as a shared love of art. I'd say my characters are very different from me, but do we have things in common? Yeah, just like I have things in common with my friends or my roommates. We're different people, but we have traits that keep us close, and I think that's important with a character since, as a writer, you have to spend a lot of time with them.

So this post, which was intended to be an answer to a question, really just turned into a lot of rambling and musing. But it is interesting to think about. It's made me curious to reread A MIDSUMMER'S NIGHTMARE, whose main character, in my mind, is the farthest from me you could ever possibly be, and see what aspects of me have trickled down to her.

What about you writers out there? Do parts of you ever end up in your characters, even if they were totally accidental? Like I said before, my characters and my stories are entirely fictional and have nothing to do with my own life, but sometimes I find little fragments of me - usually the worst parts of me - in my narrators. What about you?


The Romance Bookie said...

Great post!
I feel that somehow writers always a little of themselves into their characters, without even realizing sometimes. It could be the smallest thing, but it's still there.
A lot of people write what they know; of course there are those incredible people who just happen to have these amazing made up things pop into their brain, but usually we write something that comes from personal experience, or hearing about it from someone; so in a way I feel it is personal experience...if that makes sense :).

L.A. Jones said...

The only reason I base my main character on me is because I don't think they are enough redheads who play crucial roles in stories. Yes, there is Ron Wesley but who else?

Diana Peterfreund said...

I'm constantly being asked if it's me on the cover of my books, which is so odd to me, since the images are supposed to be sixteen year old girls, and I'm twice that. Also makes me glad that the girl on the new cover has crazy long dark hair, so people won't ask anymore.

L.A., It's funny you say that -- usually people think of redheads as a bit of a cliche in YA fiction, owing to the fact that there are so many more in books than there are in real life. Anne Shirley, Pippi Longstocking, Nancy Drew, Gemma Doyle, Clary Fray, Rachel Dare, Alanna of Trebond, and of course, Edward Cullen.

Aisyah Putri Setiawan said...

Banned complain !! Complaining only causes life and mind become more severe. Enjoy the rhythm of the problems faced. No matter ga life, not a problem not learn, so enjoy it :)

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