Basing your protagonist off yourself

by Kerri
(Maryville, Tennessee)

Question: I know it's usually considered bad to base your protagonist off yourself. It's said to be lazy and a sign of limited skill. But if your character is a healthy combination of likable traits and flaws, is it forgivable? Is it bad if at some parts of the novel the character is liked by most characters in the novel? I want my protagonist to seem original, likable, and not like a Mary Sue, but what if this is the story I feel I need to tell and no other character works for it? It's not that I'm self-centered, but whose head can I tap into better than my own?


Answer: It may be frowned upon, but everyone puts themselves into their characters to some extent. In fact, many writers would say that every character is at least an aspect of themselves, if they were thrust into a different set of circumstances.

How can you see from another character's point of view if it were not for the fact that all human beings are, on some level, the same?

So maybe you're not a Japanese wrestler, for example. But if you were to study the world of Japanese wrestling and culture, you may be able to imagine how you would feel and think and conduct yourself if you were one, because of that level of common human emotion and thought. What's more, putting a little of yourself into the character can often make the character seem more real and more original.

So maybe the heroine of your first novel is a lot like you. If it's a great story, no one will care. Eventually, you will want to write a story about someone different, just to give yourself some variety.

Of course, you have to be able to also imagine how the other characters see your character.

As for making your main character too likable, there certainly are ways you could make this work, especially if you play with how the other characters react to the main character.

If you want an example you might check out a great play by Alan Ayckbourn called Absent Friends. It's about a group of friends getting together to comfort a man whose fiancee has just died.

The first act shows the friends assembling one by one. As the audience sees them interact, it becomes clear that they all secretly hate each other. All kinds of tension and hostility is bubbling beneath the surface.

When the man in mourning finally turns up in Act 2, he's the nicest person in the world - one of those people who can see nothing negative about anyone. The fact that he is so nice, in sharp contrast to everyone else, becomes the trigger for all the suppressed anger to finally be expressed.

I'm sure your story is quite different. The point is that people can react to good characters in interesting ways.

It's a general rule that the main character should have some trait or quality that makes him/her uniquely qualified to achieve the Story Goal. Being liked could easily be that quality. It could make her everyone's confidant or the person everyone trusts, etc.

Perhaps that's what you have in mind?

Click here to post comments

Join in and submit your own question/topic! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Character Invite.


 Step-by-Step Novel Planning Workbook


NEW! Make Money Writing Nonfiction Articles


"I've read more than fifty books on writing, writing novels, etc., but your website has the most useful and practical guidance. Now that I understand how a novel is structured, I will rewrite mine, confident that it will be a more interesting novel." - Lloyd Edwards



"Thanks to your "Create a Plot Outline in 8 Easy Steps," I was able to take a story that I simply just fooled around with and went willy nilly all over, into a clearly defined, intriguing battle where two characters fight to keep their relationship intact, and try to find a balance in control of themselves and their lives. Thanks to you, I'm not ashamed of the poor organization of my writing." - Nommanic Ragus

"I am so glad I found your site. It has helped me in so many ways, and has given me more confidence about myself and my work. Thank you for making this valuable resource, for me and my fellow writers. Perhaps you'll hear about me someday...I'll owe it to you." - Ruth, Milton, U.S.A.

"I never knew what to do with all the characters in my head, but since discovering Dramatica I am writing again in my spare time. Thank you for making this available. Yes, it is a bit complex, and it does take time, but I love it because it works." - Colin Shoeman

"I came across your website by chance. It is a plethora of knowledge, written in a simplistic way to help aspiring writers. I truly appreciate all of the information you have provided to help me successfully (relative term) write my novel. Thank you very much!" - Leo T. Rollins

"I can honestly say that this is the first website that is really helpful. You manage to answer complex questions in relatively short articles and with really intelligent answers. Thank you for taking the time to write these articles and sharing them so generously." - Chrystelle Nash

"...had no idea that a simple click would give me such a wealth of valuable information. The site not only offered extremely clear and helpful instructions but was a very enjoyable read as well. The education from your wonderful site has made me a better writer and your words have inspired me to get back to work on my novel. I wish to give you a heartfelt thanks for How to Write a Book Now, sir." -- Mike Chiero