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This week Xio Axelrod has asked the question:
Readers always ask “How much of yourself do you lend to your characters?” Here’s your chance to answer. What traits do your characters have that come from you? And if not you, someone in your life.
They say that your first book is always autobiographical, which isn’t a huge surprise since we’re often told to ‘write what we know’. However, I have to admit that for me a huge part of the enjoyment of writing comes from writing about characters that are completely different from me, facing different challenges and reacting differently.
In ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ Atticus Finch explains that “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” and I think that’s definitely true. For me to understand a character, and to write from their point of view, I have to find myself empathising with them, even if they’re somebody I may not like in real life. For me, the essence of enjoying a story is to be pulled in by the characters.
In my first book, Fix You, the main heroine, Hanna, shares a number of superficial similarities with me. We were born in around the same era, we went to the same university, and we like some of the same music. However, that’s where the likeness ends. Hanna, unlike me, is feisty and go-getting, she’s an extrovert at heart who enjoys being the centre of attention. She also makes a number of decisions that I don’t think I would ever make, but for Hanna they made sense, and I wanted to stay true to her character.
In Coming Down, part of my Love in London series, Beth is a character I find extremely interesting. A reformed drug-taker, at the beginning of the story she is very weak, only growing into her character as her story progresses. Being the strong, silent type, I also found this interesting. Beth attached a lot of importance to herself from the men she was dating / married to during her life, and though I love my husband dearly, I define myself as more than a wife, even as more than a mother, I define myself as me, which Beth only learns to do towards the end of the book.
My latest book, Broken Chords, features Lara–a new mother who is fighting for her marriage. Out of all of my characters I’m probably the closest to Lara. Like me she has a smart mouth, and like me she’s devoted to her child. She suffers from Post-Natal Depression–an illness that I luckily have never suffered from, although I did have some close friends who were affected by this and a lot of the things she does comes from my observations of them.
So, to go back to the original question, all writing has to be based on observation–that’s what makes it believable–but the interesting part of the process is to invent characters who are different from me, who challenge my perceptions and make me question my own prejudices and ideas. As a writer–and as a reader–that is perhaps the biggest joy that a book can give.
So that’s a little walk around in my skin! Let’s see how much author Xio Axelrod bases her characters on herself. And if she does… I have to say they will be awesome characters!