|"Self-Portrait" by Norman Rockwell|
One angle of inspiration that I do find interesting, though, is the question of just how much of ourselves we put into our characters. Judging from my own experience, it's complicated. In a sense, I don't think we can help something of ourselves getting into most of the characters we write. For me it often comes about unconsciously—I'm usually deep into a story before I begin recognizing that some of my characters' thoughts, struggles or traits are similar to my own. And they're distributed throughout the whole cast instead of being limited to one person. In one novel draft I wrote, there are at least five characters who have something of myself in them—five characters who are very different from each other in other respects.
Another thing I think we tend to do, whether consciously or not, is to write characters who are what we wish we were. I've sometimes wondered if this isn't partly the reason for the difference between some great writers' books and their own lives and morals. Wishful thinking! With me, this seems to crop out mostly in a tendency to give my heroines curly hair—or at the very least a bit of a kink or wave. (Or perhaps it's just that I've fought the battle with stick-straight hair for so long that I'm unwilling to wish it upon my characters.) I think I also tend to write female characters who are much more confident than I am. In person I'm shy and inarticulate, so it's a kind of relief to write girls who can look you in the eye and say what they think clearly and distinctly. Sometimes when I write a milder-mannered woman, I identify with her a bit too much and then we both get bogged down.
So, to sum it up, I think most characters are made up of a combination of things: (A) things that are not like us at all—whether wishful thinking or simply things we made up, (B) traits or experiences of our own that we use deliberately, and (C) elements of ourselves that get in unconsciously. The percentages vary, I'm sure, from author to author. (This is why I'd never dare to write a straight-out how-to post—every writer's creative process is so subjective, though there are things that we all have in common.) So I can never definitely say "This character is me," because they are a blend of so many things that it would really be an inaccurate representation of myself.
What do you think? Do you ever deliberately write characters who are like yourself, or do the similarities only creep in more subtly?