How to Avoid Just Basing Characters Off Yourself

December 12, 2011
So, I actually have something to confess.

I have the tendency to base characters off myself.

I really don't like it. And it isn't like they are entirely based off of me, but really the voice of the character (whether first or third person)...I know who the real voice's mine.

And here's the interesting solution to all of this. Something a bit more...obvious than I care to admit. It came to me after reading over a writing project I had put aside for a very long time. And after reading I read over the last entry I had done, and I realized something about the main character.

My main character, I will admit, was partially based off of my own personality. And maybe in the first chapter or so, this was the case for the most part. Well, the chapter I had stopped at (and I am now continuing on) is now at Chapter 9. Things happen. People change.

Characters change.

Can you believe how long it took me to realize that?

As a writer, I should know that the whole purpose of a book is for something to happen to the character. Right? I mean, something needs to happen to the character...that's what a book is. Stuff happens.

Like my own experiences, after that "stuff" happens, I change. How can you not go through something and not be changed in some way?

When I read this latest chapter, I realized the character had changed. She wasn't me anymore. I wasn't the one telling the story. She was. It was her journey. Not mine. And I couldn't believe it. Because it all comes down to one simple solution. If you base your character off of yourself and you feel like it inhibits you somehow...just remember one thing:

Make something happen to them.

It may be you telling the story for the first few chapters before that something actually happens, but when that something happens? It won't be you telling the story. You're character will change. They have to, because that's life.

Because in reality, change can suck. Change can hurt. Change doesn't always feel good. Change can make wish things were "like they used to be."


can make you look weird.


can make you cynical.


can force you to realize home isn't what it used to be.


I Have Such Doubts



can cause doubts.


can cause relationships to fall apart.

Yet, despite all of this, change makes stories great. If it weren't for the painful changes we all face and overcome in life, there wouldn't be any great stories to tell. And if you make your character go through the same amount of change you had to deal with to become who you are, then your character will no longer be a version of you, but an entirely different, individual self.

And like Mark Twain said, "20 years from now you will be disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the one’s you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."

Just make sure your characters remember that after you put them through the wringer.


  1. I agree with you I did base characters somewhat off myself, and I do it to make changes in my life that I wish I could do. I make my characters go through changes to make them evolve into a different individual too, and that way they are not like me at all.

  2. Good post!
    I agree - it can be a problem! I tend to base my characters on myself too, and have to go through an emotional detachment before I can really develop them.

  3. Great post--and you know change is inevitable--so it is something we all (even our characters) have to deal with!!

    Cheers, Jenn.

  4. Good article, Nicole. I agree that change is inevitable but I wonder about making (character/plot) changes simply for the sake of change. Or that we need to make things happen to the character beyond simply living life? I suppose it depends on the type of story we're trying to tell at the time.

  5. I struggled with this early on because one of my main MC's (I write multiple POV's) was based on myself and his arc wasn't pronounced enough. Here's an intersting twist....what if you wrote about somebody totally different than you, that morphed into you. :)

  6. I SO get this. It's part of what makes writing so fulfilling. I feel like I've been through the wringer with them because they were me when they started out. So very true!

  7. What a good post! I, too, write my protagonist as myself more often than I like to admit. It's hard not to! But like you said, making something happen to them (aka: conflict) will make them less like you and more into the character you want them to be. I also recommend reading "Dynamic Characters" by Nancy Kress. I'm in the middle of it now and it's a fascinating read. Best of luck to you!

  8. What a fabulous post! I really do find my characters to be warped versions of myself. But sometimes, that's okay because I have to reach deep into my soul to get my characters to come to life. I think the change that you're talking about can also come about when you decide to use the truest parts of you (even parts that aren't true anymore) in a story.

    I really love reading about the journey of other writers. I hope to purchase one of your books someday!

    Best wishes from one blogger to another,


  9. Great post! You make really great points about how a character is supposed to change and can when you make things happen to them. That is the whole point. A very great book to read about change of the main character is "Lord of the Flies." That is a wild ride! I remember reading it in high school years ago and how it really changed my perspective.

    anyway, I suppose I tend to use some of me in my characters, but really I do tend to try to write characters not so much like me but like an image I've created in my mind. Sometimes, I just write the dialogue in my mind and see them 'acting out' a scene in my head before I go and write it down. Each writer has their own way, but I imagine that all of us put at least 1/4 of ourselves in our characters and this is what starts out their lives. It is great to watch them evolve and change into who they really are. Take care, Nicole!

  10. In the great words of Sheryl Crow- Change can do you good.


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