I have a newspaper article pinned to my wall — Sober – and silent. Written by Michelle Huneven, the clip is about the reaction of readers to her first novel, which was set at a drunk farm (which I guess is an alcohol detox). At this detox place, the clientele attended meetings of the Alcoholics Anonymous variety. All good and done, several years after the book was published, Ms. Huneven was a guest on a talk radio show, wherein a caller asked her if she was in A.A. She was not, and never had been.
Did this fact make Ms. Huneven’s story any less accurate? No. Not at all.
Further into the article, the author poses the question of what the reader often wonders: What’s true? What’s not? She goes on to state that at readings, one of the most frequent questions a writer receives is, “Is the main character based on you?”
Well, I suppose the answer is yes and no. Isn’t there a little part of one’s heart and soul in their main character? To know the MC, we often must face introspection to find the feelings and emotions that drive this person. Do we have a personal understanding of, or experience with something such as depression, illness and violence? Can we take that knowledge and put it into our MC dolly to make her go? Yes. In fact, it is of utmost importance to do so, because it makes a MC genuine.
Research is another key component in the writing process. If your MC isn’t all you (I hope not, otherwise you’re going to have a heap of questions to answer), then how should you fill in the blanks? Accuracy is key, even in stories where the world is make-believe and the people have purple ears. Whether you spend your time at the library or on the Internet, make sure you give your MC dolly some added stuffing to round out the hands and feet.
Getting back to whether your MC is you… I’ve found that personal stories and experiences are the best sources for my work. What started as a brief first-love experience blossomed into a year-long tale for my first story, A Place in This Life. What happens after the initial meeting is all fiction, but with a healthy dose of research and personal experience with family members who have been terminally ill. I’m always a little concerned that someone will think I’m Natalie. My agent asked this right off the bat. My answer was yes and no. Yes, I knew the person the story was based off of. And no, I didn’t do nearly half of the things that Natalie did in the story. (It’s amazing what the mind can conjure up, however.)
How much of you is in your MC? It’s up to you to decide whether it is best to bare your soul a little, or a lot. Just do it effectively, so that no matter how much of you is in there, your MC will sing to the reader. Now that’s genuine.