We occasionally discuss how we put something of ourselves into our writing, whether consciously or not. But I think most of us, if not all, are at least as apt to create characters who are very different from us, even the opposites of who we are, or, more to the point, who we feel that we are.
Readers sometimes like the comfort of recognizing themselves in fiction, but they also lust for the different, the exciting, immersion in the lives of characters who are in many ways the opposites they wish they could be. We writers are no different, except that we get to exert some degree of control over our fiction. Our readers, some of them, at least, enjoy entering the fictitious lives of a wide variety of characters, and for writers, creating those characters, giving them distinctive voices and adventures, is even more intimate than reading about them. Come to think of it, though, maybe that’s not true. If we do our work well enough we can draw the reader as deeply into our stories as we have become, or even more so, since they see the finished product and not the ups and downs and frustrations of its creation.
“Opposite” isn’t always a precise term, though. People opposite to each other in some ways may not be all that different in others. I was immersed in reading when I was a kid, enjoying worlds far different from my day to day boring normality, from the Victorian England of Sherlock Holmes to the India of Kipling’s Jungle Book to distant planets when I got seriously into science fiction. The fact that all those places and characters were in most ways the opposites of my mundane life and self was the greatest attraction. Eventually I got into the romance genre, too, with characters who seemed even more opposite to my less-than-attractive teen-age self, which made their allure all the more powerful.
All that time, through childhood and college and into inescapable adulthood, I intended to be a writer myself. It took a lot longer than I’d expected, and by the time I got around to actually focus on writing I’d already given up on associated dreams like traveling around the world and seeing all those far-away places I’d loved to read about. I did manage some travel, but came to realize that time had made the places I’d dreamed about even farther away than mere distance could.
But back to the theme of opposites. The first complete story I ever wrote was fanfiction based on a series of graphic novels, Elfquest, about elves who rode wolves and were part wolves themselves. About as opposite to myself as anything could be, but they were my younger son’s favorites, and had grabbed my attention. The first stories I actually had published were fantasies about strong women with paranormal powers, clearly the kind of opposites I would have liked to be. Writing erotica, when I got to that, turned out to be an excellent way to put oneself deeply into the story on one level, while working through characters quite different from one’s usual self. A writer friend used to claim that I must have demons in my head that wrote their stories through me. Opposites inside me. I liked that. Another recently asked how I came to write so many convincing stories about lesbian cowgirls, when I’m a stolid New Englander. So many? Just those two…no, three or four…wait, there was that one, too…just five. Unless you count the three about a New England horse trainer who specializes in big draft horses. I was horse crazy as a kid, but mostly just in my reading. And I did used to read many Zane Grey books and other westerns, along with just about everything else in our small-town library. But the real reason, I think, is that the cowboy mystique is an opposite that attracts me so much that I try to enter into it in my writing. Most of my writing, in fact, is based on types of characters with lives that are very much opposites to the life I’ve actually lived. Eight stories, for instance, have been about women in the military in wartime, from the Civil War to WWI and WWII and Vietnam and recent Mideast conflicts. I’m kind of a history buff, too, and enjoy the required research, but it’s really the attraction of characters I wish I were like, but can’t be. The closest I’ve come to any war-connected action is getting deliberately arrested at a mass sit-in at an air force base. There’s been some variety, of course—a rock-climbing character, a Chinese pirate in the approach to WWII—not exactly military, but close. And Olympic figure skaters, and a couple of sculptors, and…and…
My point, if I have one, is that opposites can have a strong attraction for readers, and at least as strong an attraction for writers, which works out well, right? And when you take into account the kinkier flavors of erotica, there’s the factor of enjoying the intensity of risk without any actual risk, but that’s a whole other topic, so nevermind. I’m late already, but it’s still Wednesday the 27th on the West Coast, right? But not, I fear, on the opposite side of the world.