One of the annoying things about having family read my works is that they for some reason think that every main character is me. It doesn’t matter if the character is a psychopath, a jock, a nuclear physicist, a boy who melts in the rain, or even a girl. For my relatives, they are all me.
This, of course, is also a question I get asked fairly frequently. How often do you put yourself into your stories? The truth of the matter is, not all that much…anymore.
When I first started writing, way back when my age had transitioned from two hands to two hands and a couple toes, everything I wrote featured me. I wrote in the first person almost exclusively, and I’ll hazard a guess that this isn’t abnormal for those of that age. When I began to seriously peruse writing after high school, I had switched to third person, but most of the characters were still me. They thought the way I thought, they acted the way I acted, and most of them even looked like me.
Character is one, if not the, most important parts of fiction. Think of your favorite book and why it’s your favorite. There’s a very good chance that the characters played a big roll. Incidentally, creating good characters is one of the most difficult parts of the craft. Giving them their own lives is a strange process, one where you have to simply let go and see what they do. The first law of writers is to write what you know, and hopefully, nobody knows anything as well as they know themselves. So it’s natural to simply insert yourself into the story. The trick is to quit doing that. To put someone else in. To probe around an empty vessel. Explore their past, their scars. Find those strange personality quirks, those little things they like and don’t like. It’s difficult at first, but I can assure you that it is one of the most enjoyable parts of writing, getting to know someone so thoroughly. For me, it’s what I enjoy most—as some readers might be able to tell from my sometimes overgrown back stories.
So this brings us back to the point: how often do I put myself into the stories? Not very often. But with A Dutiful Son, well family and friends, I couldn’t have gotten much closer.
Trevor Baldwin, as anyone who knows me well can tell, is almost me to a T. Even the T, see, as I am often called Trevor by strangers after those awkward quick introductions where you never remember their names five minutes later. His back story is very similar, though I will admit to doing some serious embellishing on numerous counts. His characteristics and thought patterns all mine. As is his profession of YouTube and writing.
But Trevor Baldwin is an idealized version of myself, in a way. While I am naturally athletic, I was not a superstar Rugby player in high school—though I did play in college, I was never dominant. Nor am I a best-seller. But one of the biggest characteristics displayed in the preceding story is very much true. I am the guy that notices things. Whenever I walk into a room, I look around. If I’m having a conversation with someone, I rarely look into their eyes. This isn’t because I’m rude, but because their eyes get kind of boring, and there are more things to see.
Seeing at a glance and interpreting, usually correctly, is a wonderful if slightly awkward gift. I can tell things about people from simple things, but then must pretend to be ignorant of those facts so as not to appear creeeeepy. I didn’t realize that this was a strange gift until I began living with someone who was the polar opposite.
Trevor’s best friend, Michael, is in fact my best friend, Mitchell. Same guy, same characteristics, but slightly altered as well. Mitchell and I have been friends since we were six years old, and I would guess that I know him better than I know anyone else. When we were both twenty, we got an apartment together, and I got to know him even better. One thing that became amazingly clear was that Mitchell didn’t exactly notice what was going on around him. While we were living in a new town together he would often drive, and when I’d suggest going to some new restaurant or stop at a grocery store, he would always ask the same thing: Where is that? Even after six months of living in the same place he had never noticed the big grocery store that was quite literally a block away from our apartment. I could give more examples, but I think that would be boring.
And so I guess it’s time to be getting onto how this story came to be. Quite simply, I decided to write a fun little action piece featuring myself and Mitchell. Barring a few tweaks of background story—not to mention a little more athleticism and a lot more success on my part—I did just that.
The man I would most like to be and the best friend that I have show up at my parents’ house and foil a robbery. The idea for a spoiled robbery was one that had been kicking around in the back of my head for a while. I don’t watch much news—I have better ways of getting depressed, thank you very much—but when I do, the one thing I love hearing about is someone turning the tables on a criminal. They call them home invasions or robberies gone bad. Psh, robberies gone right, more like. So I decided that this scenario would work out just fine and dandy for Mitchell and I to be complete bad-asses.
The setting for the story was a new house my parents had just bought. I chose it because; one, I wanted it to be more realistic and therefore fun for me to write, and two, because it was the perfect place for a somewhat protracted battle scene. Their new property featured a dilapidated house boat on stilts, abandoned house trailers, and most importantly, enough privacy to keep those pesky cops from bursting in and saving the day after only a few minutes.
Like myself, the setting was tweaked and idealized. My father is a car junky and a retired firefighter, but he does not as of yet have a firehouse shaped garage. And there are a few other changes of which I don’t wish to go into detail.
Initially, I planned for Trevor to be home at the time of the home invasion and simply fend off the baddies, but I realized that this would not lend much room for a story of any worthwhile length. So the idealized me shows up late to the party, in a sense, and takes matters into his own hands.
Would I act that way? Would I not call the cops and try to act the hero?
Truthfully, I can’t tell you. I’ve never been in that situation. I will say that I wouldn’t have called the cops from the street, though. Like Trevor, I would most definitely have stealthily proceeded up to the house to see what’s what. At that point, I probably would have called the cops, and Trevor would have done the same, that’s why the plot device of the cell jammer was introduced. Would I have been ballsy enough to disable their car and then hold them at gun point? Of that I can’t be sure, and I hope I never find out.
So with this long, rambling afterword now threatening to be as long as the story itself, I will wrap it up in the single sentence I could have used to begin with. A Dutiful Son is a written-down daydream of a really cool me being really cool.