As I’m editing my book, there are a lot of tasks on my plate: smoothing plot, seeding suspicions. But one of the most important things I’m doing is crystallizing the character of my protagonist, Kitty.
It’s a lot of work. When I started out I had a vague idea of who she was: sort of a template to get me started, to give me a name to put on the page. But as I worked my way through each of the scenes, I gained a much stronger knowledge of who she was and what she wanted. Now it’s my job to make sure that all that I’ve learned is there from the start: that on page one, Kitty is the whole person I know her to be, complete with flaws, quirks, and everything.
The truth of it is, she’s a lot like me.
Not in any of the actual details, the things I’d list if I was describing her. I’m not a mystery-solving farm girl in the big city. I’m no master manipulator. And I’m not (at least I hope I’m not) wildly self-involved.
No, Kitty isn’t what I am at all. But underneath all those details, Kitty is very much who I am. Her turn of phrase, the way she looks at the world, the things she observes about other people: these are all me. Starkly, obviously me, to anyone who knows me well enough to see.
I used to think that this was lazy, that as a writer I was supposed to be able to craft characters from the ground up, to give them unique voices that had nothing to do with mine. Now I think that was just naive. The fact is, lending Kitty my voice, my outlook — my me-ness — layers a lot of reality upon the fictional skeleton of her character. It makes her feel solid to me, tangible, true.
It’s strange but true: Kitty isn’t me. But she is.