Through the looking glass

So, recently a non-writer friend of mine was kind enough to read the submission draft of my novel BLOOD RED SUN.  After making his way through it, he had a bunch of questions for me.  One of them really threw me for a loop.

Did, I — he wanted to know — base the main character on myself?

My reaction came in two parts.  The first was: Whoa! Heck no.  I was surprised he’d even think that.  After all, the protagonist of BLOOD RED SUN is from a very different time and culture than our own.  As such, she possesses a vastly different world view than I do.  I worked hard to bring this difference out and was worried that perhaps I’d failed in bringing her essential otherness across to the reader.  My second reaction was a sneaking feeling of flattery.  After all, my protagonist a total badass.  Did it seem possible to the reader in question that she was anything like me? [for the record, I am the opposite of a badass].

After these initial reactions passed, though, I began to wonder.  How much of myself, or my subconscious view of myself, ended up slipping into characterizations of my protagonist?  While the situations she faces bear no connection to anything in my life (I can’t remember the last time I faced down the Lords of the Underworld, for instance), her struggle with self-doubt and the determination to overcome it is a familiar one to me.  So is her stubbornness, and her difficulty in relying on others or admitting she needs help (hmmm…did I put all my own bad qualities into this character?).

My friend’s question really got me thinking.  How much of ourselves do we unconsciously invest in the development of our characters?  Is this inevitable or avoidable?  Does it make our writing more authentic (in that we’re writing what we know) or does it serve as a detriment (in that we can end up stuck with a bunch of gag-worthy Mary Sue versions of ourselves)?  I like to think that I’ve done the former – bringing emotions and internal struggles that I’ve grappled with to my fictional character’s development and actions.  I’m self-doubting enough (see!) to worry it’s the latter.

In the end, I have no answers here.   But I’d sure love to hear what you think.  Have you struggled with this issue in your writing?  What are your thoughts on the matter?