The Longest Character Workshop Ever Part 2: Meet Marty!

I have an eerie feeling we’re going to get up into the triple digits with this thing. Like every time I sit down to write a blog post and I don’t have any kind of topic it’s going to be another number in our everlasting workshop.

Anyway, today we’re going to talk about Author Insertion! You’re excited, right?

Marty Meets Mary: Examples of what not to do.

My favorite example of author insertion is Clive Cussler. If you’ve ever tried to read a Dirk Pitt novel you’ve come across this. And I’ll be nice to Mr. Cussler here because utter freaking train wreck that I find his novels occasionally, I have actually finished a fair number of them.

So you’re cruising along, following Dirk and Al across the desert or the jungle or whatever super rugged, stereotypical expanse they’re crossing this time. And you’ve gotten used to some of the things a Dirk Pitt novel treats you to—strange plot asides, crazy coincidences, quasi-misogynistic behavior. You’re good. It’s an adventure, and sometimes you just remind yourself he started writing these in the sixties, and it was okay to hit your girlfriend when she was hysterical then.

(Yeah, as an aside here, I’ll tell you Matthew McConaughey made me like Dirk Pitt before I got around to reading him. It’s a complicated relationship, like all his relationships with women…)

You’re cruising along, and suddenly this dust-blown drifter comes onto the stage. He’s older, and rugged. He’s in possession of serious plot material he has utterly no reason to have. He’s strangely debonair (and crazy as a loon) and you’re confused. You’ve already aligned yourself to the idea Dirk Pitt is Clive Cussler as he imagines himself in the darkest nights. The man he wishes he was. The man he believes he could be (or is, I’ll give Cussler this, he does actually do all the NUMA stuff).

So who’s this guy? Another version of Cussler? How does that even work? And seriously, dude doesn’t have a name? And he winks all the time?

The list of authors who have been accused of serious author insertion over the years is pretty serious. Dumas, Christie, Hemmingway, Sayers. There are all sorts of theories about Shakespeare. And if there’s all this wonderful company, then why is this a thing to be worried about. The greats do it, right?

Wrong.

Look, a certain level of author insertion is unavoidable. There will be bits of yourself with wind up in things you write. Sometimes (often) without your express permission. Sometimes without your even realizing it. And that’s a situation that can make something wonderful out of your little story about a band of renegades on the edge of the galaxy, or the knight in dented armor who decides to be the good guy.

It’s when it goes off the rails that you get into trouble. The sad, depressing fact of life is that nobody cares as much about you as you do. Some things are universal, sure. A lot of things aren’t. You have to watch for the things that aren’t. It’s fine to give up a piece of yourself for a character, but watch how big a piece it is.

Nothing good comes from trying to write your own happy ending. It’s better to go off and live that one.

Write all the others.

As a complete side note, our fall is looking so insanely busy there’ll probably only be about one post a week on here, for the foreseeable future. If that doesn’t feel like enough for you, you can of course either send us a post (hint hint) or comment and beg us for more. We’re amenable to bribery of all sorts of forms…

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