Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels, The Writing Life

Putting Yourself on the Pages

How much of yourself goes into your characters?  I used to tell people none, or not much. Then I changed my mind.

A couple of years back, I did something I’ve never done. I wrote a story about me, fictionalized it, embellished parts, changed some facts to make it more interesting, then submitted it to the publisher who’d requested it, and got it published. Sound simple? For most writers, this would be a dream. A publisher approaches you and asks for a story. You write the story and the story is published. Yet for me, it was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done, first because it was about my fight with cancer, and there were many things I didn’t want to relive with that. And second, because it was a story that put me out there on the line, stood me front and center on every page. I honestly debated writing the story, and even after I signed the contract, I put off the writing because, as a writer, I love the part where I get to hide behind the characters I create and the stories I invent. With this story, though, I was going to have to lay it all out there pretty bare and, for me, that wasn’t an easy thing to do.

When facing my misgivings though, I got to thinking about how much, as writers, we put into our books. Blood, sweat and tears aside, do we create characters that are a part of ourselves? Or do we create characters based on people who have touched our lives? A dear friend of mine, a mentor of sorts, once told me about his childhood, and how he was raised in an orphanage run by nuns. One nun in particular was brutal, a child abuser, if you will. She beat my friend mercilessly on more occasions than he could remember because she believed every child needed to be beaten into submission and obedience. That was a lifetime of cruel experience that never left him.

My friend went on to become one of the great horror writers whose work has become part of the culture. But with all his successes in life, he never got over the nun, and in some form, he killed her in every one of the books he ever wrote. Only he knew who she was in the book, and only a few selected people knew he did this. That was him laying it all out there bare, and every time he killed that nun it agonized him all over again. Not the part where he killed her but the memories of suffering at her hand. Yet he still did it, had to do it, maybe was even obsessed to do it. He called it his catharsis.

When I created my alter character for my story though, I wasn’t obsessed to do it. I didn’t need a catharsis. I didn’t need to release any pent-up emotions. But I was reluctant to do this because I wasn’t particularly thrilled to let the world know I went a little crazy for a time. I wrote the story anyway, then suddenly, there it was, in print, for everybody to witness. Me, on that page. Which made me wonder how much of myself I’ve put into characters in the other books I’ve written, where the heroine has done amazing, or wonderful or even stupid things. I’m pretty sure I’m not consciously scripting me into my stories, like my friend scripted some manifestation of his nun. But as I’m often asked, just where do you find your characters? From life, I usually tell them. Or from observation. Honestly, I don’t really know. Characters just seem to pop into my head when I need them to pop, then they develop as they need to develop. Maybe they are me, or parts of me. Could be they’re bits and pieces of everybody I know. Or maybe they’re pure fantasy.

Truth is, I think my characters are a vast store of life experience. They’re no one in particular, and yet they’re everyone I meet. I met a young man whose passion in life is writing, yet creating the characters is what scares him the most. He doesn’t know where they’ll come from, or if they’ll come when he decides to write a book. He doesn’t know how to instill traits in them, or create stories for them that someone may relate to. “The other parts are easy,” he said. “I can make up stories all day, but I just can’t put the characters in them.” Makes me wonder if he has a brutal nun in his past who might fit the bill. Or maybe all he has to do is face himself, and leave some of that on the page. Honestly, I don’t know. I’ve created a lot of different characters over the course of my writing career and, God willing, I’ll be creating a lot more. But the one who has scared me the most was me.

So tell me, how much of you goes into the characters you create?

By the way, I finally have a new book coming out in July. It’s been a while since I’ve had one of those, due to my recent illness. But it’s great to be back at it again. Doctor, Mommy…Wife? (or, Doctor, Mummy…Wife?) will be on sale in all the usual places. For more info, check my website at www.Dianne-Drake.com or visit me on Facebook at http://www.Facebook.com/DianneDrake

Until next time…wishing you health and happiness!





10 thoughts on “Putting Yourself on the Pages”

  1. Hi Dianne – very interesting blog. I suspect every character I write has a bit of me in them. I wouldn’t know how to completely separate myself from them, but I try my best to keep them very different from me. No one would want to read that character! ha ha
    So glad you’ve got a new Medical Romance coming out. I’m sure your fans are thrilled. Love the cover and titles, too.

  2. Hi Dianne, I love your observation ‘They’re no one in particular, and yet they’re everyone I meet.’ That’s exactly how I feel about it.

    As for me – I’m not aware that there’s a great deal of ‘me’ in my books, but my friends say that they see a great deal of me in them. I do have a definite soft spot for heroes who can whip up a fantastic meal from whatever they can find hidden at the back of the kitchen cupboard, though. Maybe because I’m not the world’s greatest cook 🙂

    1. I think readers always think we put ourselves on the page. I’ve had a lot of people ask if a certain character was me, so maybe they’re seeing something I’m not.

  3. Dianne

    That is a great post as I love reading and often wonder how much of the author or their friends and family are actually part of a story 🙂 That book must have been hard to write good on you

    I look forward to your new one

    have Fun

    1. The book was difficult, but I’d been away from the cancer long enough that it wasn’t as painful as it could have been. I certainly couldn’t have written it in the first year of my recovery. My emotions weren’t ready.

  4. Love this blog, Dianne. I’m sure a lot of me or the emotions from some of my experiences go into my stories. How else would I know what my characters are thinking? I touched on breast cancer in one story but found I couldn’t dig too deep as it reared up and brought back memories I didn’t want. Must’ve got something right though as the reviews confirmed the emotions were harrowing and real.

  5. Dianne,
    I feel your pain. When I wrote my book about my son it was so hard because I had to pour the emotion into it that I didn’t want to remember. But that emotion was what people responded to the most. I think a little of the author goes into each book. Each story is colored by our own life.

    1. I couldn’t even begin to write a story like yours. When Julie and I met you that first time, and introduced you to Sheila, I knew your story would be great, but I couldn’t imagine what it would take to write it, especially when it’s about your child. Hats off to you and your courage.

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