Subtitle: The Dangers of Fictionalizing Yourself
MPD. Multiple Personality Disorder (or, as I understand it, the PC term is now Dissociative Identity Disorder). One body has many personalities living inside. It’s a serious condition that has resulted in plenty of entertaining jokes and movies. I’ve known one person with this condition. It’s much more alarming in reality than it is in those movies.
But this isn’t meant to be a post about anything serious like that. What I really mean to talk about is what happens when you are so attached to your own personality, that you can’t imagine any other personality even exists.
Over the years, my writing club has had several members who are unable to separate themselves from their characters. This means two things for a writer. First, it means her primary character is a fictionalized (and usually idealized) version of the writer herself. This ties in very closely with twinkiness, but isn’t quite the same. (I’m open to suggestions for a name for this disorder. For now, we’ll call it EDP: Egomaniacal Personality Disorder.)
This creates a whole slew of problems. Characters we base on our own lives are usually boring. Of course, we don’t think so, because we are living our lives and know all about the drama and romance. I’ve never met anyone whose real life was truly boring, the problem is that real lives rarely translate well into fiction. Why do we love to read about celebrities? Because they are not “real.” Normal people don’t have lives like that. Celebrities can get into trouble we “real” people can only imagine and they are, therefore, just as good as fiction.
But not me. Or you. Not, that is, without a lot of help from actual fiction. So let’s just assume, for the sake of this argument, that fictionalizing yourself is a bad idea that results in a boring character.
The sad result of writing boring characters in a group writing environment is that no one else wants to write with you. The result is that you begin to wonder why no one likes you, the writer. The situation becomes even more complicated if people do write with you, but the story doesn’t go the way you expected. Did you intend for that studly horse trainer character to fall madly in love with your sweet little harper girl, but instead they had a big fight and he took comfort in the arms of another woman? They’re just fiction, right? So why do you feel so bad?
If we write ourselves into our characters, the line between fiction and reality can become very thin. This is okay if you’re writing a novel based on your life – then you have control over everything and it can work out exactly the way you want. Not with multiple writers, each in charge of different characters. Actions done by someone else’s character to your own character become personal and everyone winds up unhappy.
This is very difficult to explain to writers, especially new ones. The first thing they do is go into denial. “Oh no, she’s not like me. Her temper is much shorter, and I don’t have red hair.” Uh huh. Then, if they try and change the character, they wind up not liking her anymore, and become even more unhappy. Or, they can’t change the character and nothing else changes either.
The second unfortunate result of EPD happens when a person suffering from it creates many characters. These characters may have different names, different appearances, different ages, different backgrounds, or even different genders… but they all wind up being the same person. The results of this are pretty much the same as above – no one wants to write with you.
What is the solution? Can EPD be cured?
I think so. Usually, practice is the key thing. Most writers will eventually come to understand that they can’t keep their characters too close, or they will be stifled. Like in real life, characters have to be able to respond to each situation presented, they have to be able to change as a result of being in that situation, and they have to have their own voices. In our world of fan fiction (while not true of all fan-fics), the outcome of any story is rarely certain. Flexibility is a must. Learning to have two different characters react to the same situation differently is a very good exercise.
And sometimes, I am convinced (though my fellow BOD members likely wouldn’t agree with me), the only cure is to let a writer get away with it. If she never gets to realize her fantasies of perfection and stardom, she will never understand that there are other, more entertaining options. Sometimes, I think it just has to be gotten out of the system.
And that, I think, is the reason there are so many hundreds of different Fan-fic clubs to choose from. Every writer who can’t have her own way in one place has started up her own club someplace else, where she can reign as Twinkie Supreme.