Self-Insert

Published July 28, 2015 by swankivy

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issue50

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Woohoo! Issue 50, so we have another long comic!

So, yeah, when I was a teenager I seem to have had a habit of making my characters kinda look like me, though they were always reasonably different from me when it came to their desires and personalities. But as I drifted away from modeling their looks on my own, I found that some people were determined to see them as “me,” no matter what I did.

While it’s frustrating that some people insist on considering similarities as evidence that characters are self-inserts, I don’t really see a reason to deliberately create characters who are nothing like me just to answer and fight this misconception. We tell stories about people who are sometimes kinda like us. That’s all right for authors to do, though they can be boring for others if the stories we write are nothing but idealized versions of ourselves or wish-fulfillment fantasies.

We DO put ourselves into our characters. But at least in my case, that does not mean those characters “are” me, nor do their characteristics manifest identically to the way those same characteristics might manifest for me.

Long story short: writers, there’s no need to attempt to excise every particle of yourself from your characters in the name of avoiding the self-insert, and readers . . . just remember things aren’t necessarily what they seem.

8 comments on “Self-Insert

  • So what you need is a promiscuous Filipino evangelist, who doesn’t read anything but the bible, as a protagonist to avoid this in future X)

  • Ahaha, I love this comic so much! (I’ve been reading them for a while now and the others are great too of course. :D)

    And I can really relate to this. Some people are only paying attention to the similarities in the first place, so they don’t think the differences even count, no matter how much they might actually outweight the similarities…

    At one time when I was writing a play for school and one of the characters was… well, nothing like me. The only thing we had in common was that he was an artist and I like making art. I was kinda stunned when my teacher pointed at the character and said “The writer always writes themselves in the story”. And suddenly all my friends agreed that this character was my self-insert. xD Even though he was so many things that I’m not: Male, gay, drunk, lazy, slow-witted, carefree, rich, unambitious, had no fashion sense… the list could go on forever. Even his approach to art was the kind I’ve never had any interest for (abstract paintings). But all everyone saw was this one superficial similarity. :’D

    Things like this really make me think that with certain people, we just can’t win and it doesn’t have anything to do with whether the characters are actually significantly similar to us.

    I still try to tell them that if a character likes what I like or has somehow similar problems it’s not necessarily because I’m writing about myself. It’s because I’m writing about things that I care about and know about, so obviously the character could not be someone who has nothing to do with anything I have something to do with. :’D

    So yes, it’s definitely ok for us to tell stories about people who are kinda like us. There are a lot of real people who are “kinda like us” too, people with similar life stories and interests and other people can still see where those people differ from us.

    Wish they could do the same to our characters… 😀

    Btw, I completely adore Delia, for everything we’ve got to see about her online! I really really wish the mighty deciders out there will see her awesomeness!

    • I agree about people trying to read us into our characters. What’s funny is when they have experiences that are nothing like ours, people will try to tell us we aren’t allowed to write that or won’t do a good job doing so. But then they crucify us if we write about stuff that we do have personal experience with. Basically every character I’ve written who has a similarity to me will manifest it differently than I do. None of them are me. Gross that someone pointed that out about your artistic similarities compared to your character. I like to make art too but don’t consider myself an artist, and my next character Megan is going to be a teenage artist who basically enjoys the exact opposite kind of art that I do. (She hates drawing people and prefers drawing settings, mostly buildings and intricate cities.) I’m sure people will still read about her and come away convinced she’s just me.

  • Yayyy new comic! I always look forward to these. Happy 50th issue~ 😀

    I think this whole “it’s really just a self-insert” thing aggravates me because when I’ve had it pointed out to me, I’ve started to overthink it and wonder if I’m just short of imagination. Like, I’ve only written from the perspective of a man once. Does that mean I’m inherently so unimaginative that I can’t write from a POV outside of my gender? Other people seem to think so.

    But then again, I also wonder if that’s what discourages so many writers of marginalized groups from sharing personal stories through their fiction. I’ve seen a lot of people talk about how, while yes, we do need diversity in fiction, it seems to most often come from authors who aren’t part of that minority. There’s no diversity in the creators.

    I imagine you might receive pushback and idiotic comments from people who find out you’re an asexual woman writing an asexual protagonist. (Never mind that there’s a lot of differences between you and the character). Sometimes I wonder if that’s what’s kept me, personally, from writing a Latina POV character all this time, even someone from my own birth country. I’ve been afraid people would read it and just consider me incapable of writing from anyone else’s point of view, especially since this kind of thing has happened before. My urban fantasy book has a heroine who’s short and a brunette. I’m a short brunette. Instant self-insert. My next story, a sci-fi, has a protagonist who’s an atheist. I’m an atheist. Instant self-insert.

    Hopefully my next book (might be my NaNoWriMo for this year) will feature an Ecuadorian girl around my age. And I know I am never going to hear the end of it >_> But I’ve always wanted to see Ecuadorian girls in speculative fiction and it’s never happened. I might as well be the person to write it.

    Anyways–great comic 😀 I’m gonna remember Megan’s name now for sure >.> A YA magical realism story sounds awesome already.

  • In my opinion, one of the first lessons a writer needs to learn (when creating protagonists) is to avoid drawing too much on their own personality. I suppose this sort of criticism might thus be helpful… at first. Later it’ll just be annoying. On that note, one possible way of dealing with people pointing out any tiny similarity and using it as ‘evidence’ that the character is just the author in disguise is to point out similarities between real people (e.g. “Hmm, you like fantasy novels, and I do too. You must be an alternate version of me!”). If that makes any senses, great. Otherwise, sorry for cluttering up the comments. 🙂

  • Quite a few of the authors I follow seem to self-insert, even if they claim that there’s no reference to them or their life.

    It’s easier to include details that you’re familiar with when you’re writing than to make up completely new scenarios. And the details are (by definition) more realistic.

    As Becky said in her comment, overthinking can be an issue.

    Just writing and letting the words flow onto the screen is good – you can always edit out anything that’s too close to revealing something later.

  • People want to prove they are smarter and know the deep secrets. See George Noory’s audience. Obviously, the author knows more about their characters than anyone else, because we carry in our heads a lot more than we commit to writing about them – at least, the parts we submit to a publisher. So the whole concept is laughable. Or would be, if it didn’t reveal a great flaw in human thinking, and therefore in my thinking.

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