Breaking the unspoken rule: Including yourself directly in the story. Good idea?

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#1

We’ve all done it.

Most authors in some way, shape, or form include themselves in the books they are writing. They’re just a little less obvious. C. S. Lewis included himself as the boy who planted the tree that started the portal connection to Narnia. Poetry writers, write their emotions or experiences. Fiction writers make references to their personalities weaved into the primary faces of a character. As authors, we write what we know.

However, none of us, want a reader to perceive us as pretentious or prideful. If we’re writing a life experience, sharing a deep emotion in a fictional world, or showcasing some truth we learned along the way: we never tell the reader - this character, this emotion, this thing that happened: it’s me.

My family’s personally noted the intentional mistake I have made. I included myself (directly), in both personality and character description by name in the book I’m writing. Why? 2 reasons.

  1. I don’t want someone to mistake the character, “The Author,” as the actual author of the book. I’m not a god in the fictional universe I’m recounting.

  2. I’m recounting dreams. I lived this universe in my dreams as a young child - I’m adapting them to books with the hope of making movies out of them. I think it’s fresh, entertaining, and at the end of each book - a showcase of men and woman not just surviving extreme circumstances but with faith - thriving beyond them!

I think it’s unique and creative, but I doubt it’s going to win me any awards (so to speak).

I’ve gotten mixed feedback. Most of my readers are like, that’s cool, and you’re honest but some of my personal friends and family are like: that’s like writing 101 - don’t mess with the chintu of writing.

So, I’m opening Pandora’s box and ask all the writers in the community for their consensus. What are your thoughts about writing yourself in your work? Is that a good thing? Is it lazy writing? Is it provocative? A dangerous choice. Is it being honest with your intentions as an artist? Or is it taboo and shouldn’t be done.

I would love your thoughts on the matter,

Justin K, @jumpcutking, author

** I forgot to add some context. We’re talking about fictional stories, from another universe. **


#2

I can honestly say I’ve never done it.

No, I don’t think it’s a good idea. Why? For mostly the same reason that I cringe when someone says their story is based on true events. Because we are not objective about ourselves, and so we make lousy characters. We would never do x, so our character can’t do x. It didn’t happen that way, so I can’t change it. We’re nice people so we have to be nice in the novel.

Yuck.


#3

That does sound dangerous. My opinion about writing probably differs from most, I like the raw human experience from it. Characters aren’t good or bad, they’re just as much discovering who they are as much as we are discovering who we are through the lens of the character. The books I love, show the good, the bad, warts and all.

I would agree, creative objectivity enhances writing.


#4

That’s how I started out writing and I have nothing against it. It can be done right. Some people are selfish. They only think about themselves. Some people are their own worst critics.

It’s just more a matter of being able to see yourself differently than what you actually see yourself. See the good in you, but also include your flaws. You cant make yourself this perfect character or this character who is way too insecure all the time. Treat yourself like as if you were writing a brand new character. Balance is key.

When I would write myself as a character, I felt free. I felt like I could truly express myself in my character. I can’t do that in real life sometimes. That’s just me.


#5

I agree 100% - I can express deep emotions that I couldn’t in real life. That being said, I think you and @XimeraGrey would agree. Objectivity, and exploring the human condition (flaws and growth) are components of good writing.


#7

I can’t write myself into my stories. That guy has issues.

Personally, all my characters are hypothetical versions of myself. I ask myself, ‘What would need to happen to me in order to end up the way my characters end up?’ Then I flesh out my character’s backstories and resulting personalities from the answer I ween. I don’t see my characters as either good or bad. I just see them as people that ended up the way they did because of this, this and that.

That’s just me, though.


#8

I feel that a writer must relate with their characters in some way. Though, it often ends up with perfect characters, (Mary Sues) and so on, due to the fact people are often not strong enough to share true experiences. Only real experience gives us the best and imaginative stories, being able to work off of what has been felt before.

One of the most beloved works of literature, Huckleberry Finn, is all based off of a real person and true story. As long as one isn’t insecure with what they felt or experienced, then I believe it could possibly be a smash hit.

Overall, it is a dangerous choice. It is a slippery slope and if you fail to make yourself realistic, you’ll slip right into mediocre writing. I would never say it shouldn’t or can’t be done, because it should and can! I’ve written details of myself and close family/friends into a novel, little personality traits because I understand them well, and even with my cruel beta readers, it remains an absolute hit! When anything is written with precision and skill, it can be done well. :slight_smile:


#9

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with what you’re doing from the above quotation. :arrow_double_up::arrow_up:

Some characters are self inserts of what the author wished their lives were like. Nothing wrong with that. There’s a difference between a self-insert and an untouchable MC who’s perfect at everything.

This is a link about self-inserts from deviant art. The conclusion: there isn’t really a problem with self-inserts, just bad writing. https://www.deviantart.com/makingfunofstuff/art/The-Problem-with-Self-Inserts-361626225


#10

I personally believe in the concept of “write what you know” so I often take something from my real world experiences and use that as the foundation to form a story around.

Some stories are much more heavily influenced by my life than others. Close friends and family can see what I’ve taken from my life to use.

But I have no interest in writing memoir, so I don’t have to worry about trying to write “as it happened” or maintaining any objectivity required for a faithful depiction. Even though that’s not really what memoir requires anyway - it’s implied that we are all unreliable narrators to the degree that we truly only know our experiences through our own personal lens.

Anyway, I’m writing fiction so I twist the real life influences so they serve the purpose of my story. Sometimes that means making a character that’s based on “me” or my experience better or worse within the given framework.

In all honesty I’d rather read a story where the author has had some real life emotion or event that they are basing it on, versus a story without any touchstone in genuine stuff.

So for example a horror story based on a nightmare that made the author wake up screaming, or based on a phobia they have, can be gripping in a special way thanks to the author’s authentic fear.

I’d rather read a story by a teen author that’s about a protagonist in scenarios the author has touched upon already in their real life - friendships, first love, school, etc. versus a teen author trying to write about marriage and parenthood, if they’ve never experienced that.

There’s a level of authenticity to the emotion behind a story when there are touchstones in author experience versus those things based on research alone.

In my opinion, the best authors are the ones that can take the fibers of emotional experience, twist them together with research, and then knot both inexorably to the imaginary.

Or as Robert Frost said -

"No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.
No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”

You need to keenly feel the words you put on the page. Real world connections help that more than hinder it.


#11

Same here. I don’t believe it is a good thing to include real people as real people in my novel. That includes myself. I once made the mistake of including a real-life cat into my first novel. When it died, I found it hard to read about its antics. That might sound like a silly little example. It was not.
Anything I write is based on my personal experience. It colours what I write, it influences how I write. My characters are, however, not me. They might share certain traits, but they are fundamentally different. I want to explore other possibilities, live other lives.
The less crucial a character is the more likely he might feed more directly from people I met, saw, liked, despised.
But even those would always be a collage. I’m not Hitchcock. I don’t want to run around in my creations. It would feel odd. And be it for the simple reason that the written word will survive the role model.
May that cat rest in peace. He taught me a lesson


#12

I would not write something autobiographically and actually include myself. Just too boring. :slight_smile:
But I think myself shows in my writing. In one story I chose my real life name for one of my characters. And each time I came across it I actually startled. :slight_smile:


#13

I dont think it is wrong as long as you are able to include your flaws. We are humans and so we have the tendency to either think of ourselves as the best people in the world or the worst. Both of which are not good, in real life or in fiction.

I find it much more easier to create characters based on myself or summertime I know rather than right or of the blue. Like in one of my WIP the MC was based on a thought, what if my family died? How can I survive?

But I find it difficult to write about my other character because she has abusive parents while I have awesome supportive ones.


#14

To be blunt… there’s no rule that 100% should never be broken. Know the rules, so you can break the rules. But you have to have a good reason to break the rules.

“My stories are based off dreams” isn’t really a good reason to break that rule.

Dreams don’t usually make good stories. Like, sometimes they can be a good spark of inspiration for a story. But just writing down a dream exactly as it happened isn’t usually interesting to anyone else.


#15

I try not to do it, but I did give myself one character that’s 100% totally me in an alternate universe.

It was actually really, really difficult to write her, because I had promised myself that I would be as faithful as possible to the source material (hehe, that’s me). It forced me to sit down and think about all my flaws, including the really bad ones instead of just the superficial ones I’d be comfortable admitting, to take a hard look at how I see the world, so I could make sure the character saw it the same way, and to really examine what I might do in certain situations, because I’m not as brave as I think myself to be.

I don’t know about the story, but writing a shameless self-insert character helped me understand myself better and come to terms with my weaknesses and my strengths. Also, it was crazy fun imagining myself in this cool, magical world, and I highly recommend it to anyone in a bit of a writing slump!


#16

hi, I am a newbie and I am going to make a book with my partner. how could I let her read my writing through wattpad?

~valarianaval


#17

Hi there
welcome to Wattpad. i had to delete your post as you keep asking the same question in various threads. I suggest you don’t do that in future, here on Wattpad you will usually get a response after just one post :grinning:
Which you did.
Also, please check out where you post. We have a number of different clubs in the community, the Industry Insider is all about questions of trad pubbing, self pubbing and querying.

Thank you for your understanding

Lina - Community Ambassador


#18

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with an author self-inserting themselves as long as they don’t come off as a Mary Sue/Gary Stu. I know I have taken aspects of my personality and put them into various characters (probably makes me look like I have multiple personalities :sweat_smile:). But it follows the advice of “write what you know.”


#19

If I’m understanding you (and apologies if I’m way off base) what you’re proposing is more of a meta insertion of yourself within the universe rather than a reflection of yourself in your main character.

And I’d say do it but sparingly, it’s not an uncommon trope but I think it can get tired after a while. Stephen King wrote himself into the Dark Towers series, Stan Lee is in all movies created in his universe as basically himself and Lemony Snicket regularly digresses into his own life throughout A Series of Unfortunate Events.


#20

“Lemony Snicket” doesn’t go into his real life. He uses a fictional third person narrator, which he also uses as his pen name, to tell the story, and the narrator goes into his fictional life - which is relevant to plot of the book. The real person behind the series, Daniel Handler, doesn’t mention his life in the series.


#21

Sorry I phrased this poorly, I was just trying to illustrate the use of a self-aware author and ominsecent presence throughout a book inserting himself as a literal character in the book- even if said author is not a real person- I feel he related better to the OP’s quandary more than other uses of third party narrators