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Why Was My Protagonist So Prickly? What Do Characters Reveal?


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I had surgery in March. It wasn’t a big deal, but I had to take a week off from work. When I returned, I did not receive the warm welcome I was expecting. I didn’t know why I thought I would get one. After all, everyone’s attendance at work was spotty, with COVID restrictions. Instead, I publicly scolded by the front end secretary who lambasted me for not following a procedure that was put in place during my absence. I explained it was my first day back, and I didn’t know, but she informed me I should have called ahead to find out. She then stood up, turned her back to me, and raised her hand in dismissal.

Anyone who knows me knows I do not anger easily. Maybe it was the fact I still had discomfort or the sheer stupidity of the comment or, most likely, the dismissive hand gesture, but I lit her up like the Vegas Strip. She tried to defend her position, but I tore down each of her arguments one by one until I politely reminded her she was making me late. I turned my back to her, raised my hand, and left. Not the way I wanted to start my first morning back, but I actually laughed at the exchange. On my way to my office I thought, that’s going to end up as a scene in a book. It was perfect. It had a beginning, middle, and end, humor and it had great character play. I made a mental note.

As I sat down at my desk, I noticed an email from my developmental editor. I opened it up immediately. In her notes, she wrote that one of my characters was a bitch and we never saw her being nice. There was no reason anyone would enter into a relationship with her, except if they were a masochist. I wanted to respond by telling her about the secretary, but I didn’t. I reflected on the character and who I became as I wrote her scenes. I became the person who lit up the secretary like Vegas. I had given that side of me life through my character, which made her one sided and pretty damn mean.

According to this article by Barbara Linn Probst, it seems very common for writers to reflect themselves in their writing. But in doing so, does the writer’s mirror falsify or cleanse their image? I’d be interested in your thoughts.

 

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