Though I have discussed this issue a little in my post on the unconscious that plays out through our dreams, and through a similar recent post, I thought I would consider how our mind, of which the greatest proportion is the unconscious/subconscious or ‘id’ as Psychologist Sigmund Freud would have called it, plays a part in the selection and creation of scenes and characters for our novel plots.
In this, I am talking about the way that writers inadvertently make references to things that they know in their own, real lives. For example, I was writing in one of my stories when I realised that the school that my protagonist is searching for, ‘Hollybrook’, contains the surname of the adopted family she is trying to renounce. Not only that, but I had typoed the name of the school throughout the passages it had been mentioned, resulting in ‘Holy’-brook. I cannot deny that faith has been on my mind an awful lot lately.
As writers, it is a known fact that we enjoy slipping in the occasional reference or two to pull our characters closer in to our lives. Yes, it is often seen as a classic mistake that writers make, to include facts about themselves, and some might even go so far as saying that any inclusion of any reference is bad, not so much just the creation of Mary Sues. It is often considered an amateur writer’s way, you see.
All Mary Sues (or Gary Stus, if you’re inclined to men) are characters that are stereotypes, often the good-girl stereotype. Many a site has included a checklist in order to avoid Mary Sues. Younger writers might want to put themselves in the protagonist’s place, more often than not thus creating a Mary Sue.
Which begs the question: do Mary Sues actually exist? That is, if they exist abundantly, they cannot be separate from the not. But that’s not quite the point.
Can we help what we don’t realise? I know I want my protagonist to have quite a ‘good-girl’ aura about what she does, even if she’s not perfect. It might exactly be the subtle change of wording that we don’t acknowledge until the word has been repeated and encoded into our memory a few times. Are there ways to stop such an action? I don’t know. Perhaps all we really need to do is to keep a particularly vigilant eye on the words unfolding on our page and make sure we have a reason for naming a character one way that doesn’t involve ourselves.
I’ve had this happen to me that the personalities of my characters are affected by my own subconscious disposition or inclinations. I had a Beta reader say to me recently “I like this protagonist more now that I know he likes to read.” I had no direct intention of evoking reader empathy through this characteristic; in fact, it wasn’t a trait of my character that I had openly accepted or engaged with in my brain. It just came to me that he should be in a library; it seemed right. I guess that was my subconscious telling me a thing or two.
Again, another character finds herself reading at the end of one of my novels. It may be true that books are important life food, but it is odd that I have not created a character who dislikes to read. Consciously.
But is there anything wrong with having aspects of ourselves given and torn away to our characters?
We are all people, are we not? We all have ways of thinking that are similar or different to others. It is quite likely that there is another on earth who thinks and acts the same way we do, by sheer coincidence. In this way, it could be said that the subconscious is very useful in the creation of characters – in that it provides another, more subtle layer to their personality, one which is not weighted down by the obvious characteristics we want to display. I’d say that this is what adds another bit to theme: the subconscious of character development.