Are you the hero?

“Stand next to the tall American girl and I’ll take your picture,” the man said to his 15 year old son. I was paid to go along with such requests, and so I smiled at the mortified teen and waited.

in the summer of 1989
in the summer of 1989

The young man did as he told, but he did not look at me. Why would he? His father was the one interested in my being tall. They said thank you and I gave a wave as I flounced off in my hoop skirt–part of the Disney World Fantasy Land costume. On the other girls that ridiculous skirt with the white ruffled slip peeking from underneath came well below the knees. On me it fell just above.

In fiction, it is not unusual for writers to make themselves the hero. First books–so I’ve been told–are thinly veiled autobiographies. Now, part of me is in every character I create. Sure. I get that. But I have never written about a girl who is tall. My height is so wrapped up in my identity that there is no way a short or average height female character is really me at all. And I wonder if I can make a girl tall and make her not like me. Should I try? If you have read this blog regularly this may sound ludicrous to you, but I don’t want to write a thinly veiled autobiography. Do you?

Is there one trait in yourself that you would never give to your characters? Or do you let your hero run off with such identifying markers and enjoy the results?


With mixed feelings I put forth this link if you should have time to subject yourself to this year’s NaNoWriMo excerpt. Please keep in mind that it was written in a hurry and blah, blah, blah…

7 thoughts on “Are you the hero?

  1. Isn’t there somewhere a short you, even if it’s a person you’re glad your not? Aren’t there a number of Martas wanting some opportunities? And why would a tall girl have to be like you? For instance, why couldn’t there be a mean-spirited tall girl? Or a chemist instead of artist writer actor mother tall girl? Think about Philip Seymore Hoffman, a truly big man, playing Truman Capote, a truly small man. Think about how you’d portray the amazing young girl in Ursula Hegi’s wrenching novel about a dwarf. Think about adding six inches to Chesney. Then ask her what she wants.

  2. I agree about the not wanting a thinly veiled autobiography. My first attempts at novelling (in my teens) were always fantasy or science fiction and although the characters were always somewhat like me, the settings were out of this world. My first attempt at autobiography (when I was 19!) was abandoned as being too hard, and too stressful, and really, I was tired of myself.

    My first finished first draft of a novel was of a woman who was six feet, blonde, strong, over thirty, everything that I was not. She could even drive and did so a thousand miles to a place where I did not live. I still need to go back and finish a final draft of her.

    Next time I tackled a novel, the mc was FAR too like me and as a result, disappeared into the background, the supporting characters, the language. God, she was boring. I gave up on that novel.

  3. It’s always entertaining to see how characters resolve my personal dilemmas. I guess if I wanted, I could follow their lead — but I keep muttering to myself, Sure, it’s easy for YOU, you don’t have to worry about [X] or [Y]… So I just let myself be entertained.

    That said, no, I have no interest at all in writing a thinly veiled or even completely UNveiled autobio. Much more difficult than disguising physical attributes — height and hair color and so on — is the challenge of disguising psychological ones. I hear other writers speak of worrying what their families will think — whether the sibs, say, will recognize themselves in the writer’s work — but for me the squirmy thought is that they might recognize ME, especially in the person of an “evil” or “stupid” character.

    I probably worry too much. (No wonder I find myself in good company here. :))

  4. Shelly, yes. Okay. I suppose this is the next boundary to push. You know, if I keep listening to you I’m not going to know where my comfort zone is–except for somewhere behind me.

    rowena, I still think you should go back to that novel.

    JES, it may not be that I worry about my family thinking I’m evil or stupid, more like I worry they will know I may not be who they think. Like I’ve been lying to them all this time. Which I think is too strong a way to put it, but there you go. Maybe we could both worry less.

  5. Good advice. But if you put Bobby McFerrin on the soundtrack, I am g,o,n,E. Cute song and I am glad to have heard it at least once in this life. But still…

  6. Pingback: Ear Job (3): Tinnitus

  7. Marta – yes, still the swotty bespectacled girl who was a foot taller than everyone else at 13, who towers over all the other women in the family … Perhaps writing is a chance to be anyone but her as Shelly says.

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