To varying degrees, many authors, particularly those who are genuinely passionate about their craft, invariably put a lot of themselves into their writing, whether it be in terms of their personality informing their characterisation, or their life experiences influencing their plots. I’ve never been one of these writers. I have always consciously gone out of my way to avoid putting any aspect of myself into my writing. There are a couple of reasons for this: first of all, I am a very private person, so the idea of incorporating any part of myself or my life into a story is one I could never be comfortable with; opening up and sharing personal things about myself with anyone, even indirectly, is something that doesn’t come easily to me, and (with one notable exception) it never will. Secondly, I’m a boring person with a boring life which doesn’t really lend itself to writing exciting stories.
For a long time I simply assumed I had been successful in keeping myself out of my stories. But, as it happens, while I was writing my debut novel The Exercise Of Vital Powers I finally became aware of the fact I’ve always been subconsciously inserting a particular part of my self into my work. I’m not sure at what stage it occurred to me, but I realised that every protagonist I write is an outsider: Someone who never truly belongs; someone whose face never seems to fit. As for why this is the case? The obvious answer is that I am, and always have been an outsider myself, so understand through personal experience what it is like. And as a writer who is big on understanding my characters, it makes sense that I would put this trait into my main characters.
What finally brought all this to my attention was certain creative choices that I did consciously make for Kayden Jayta, the protagonist of The Exercise Of Vital Powers. I knew I wanted and needed to alienate her from the other characters in the book, but it wasn’t enough to just have her be my usual outsider; she had to be an outsider in every conceivable way. One of the more apparent ways I did this was by altering her ethnicity. Making her literally the only person from her background among all the characters she interacts with was a good way to ensure she could never fit in among her peers, even if she wanted to. She sticks out like a sore thumb, both visually and in terms of her traits and abilities.
So, now that I’m aware my protagonists are always outsiders, do I plan to change that? Probably not, is the simple answer. It is often said that you should write what you know, and I know outsiders. And given that I’ve been writing them for years without even realising it, clearly this is an indication that I should just continue to do what comes naturally to me rather than trying to force myself to change before I’m ready.
Thanks for reading,