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Writing Books/Basing Characters off of yourself


I have seen two conflicting pieces of advice for writers and writing in general. Separately they seem to make perfect sense and can add a lot to a story, but together they can be quite confusing. Can you help me in trying to balance these two seemingly opposite things in writing?

1) Write what you know.
2) Do NOT base characters off yourself!

Hi Ben:

It really annoys me, the type of advice given out to emerging writers these days. Of course, to be fair, whoever told you not to base characters on yourself or your life experiences (you are your life experiences) may have meant "Don't base ALL your characters on you," I don't know. Many authors have written books based on their experiences, even fiction books, and many have stated as much. I wouldn't worry about this non-issue.

As for writing what you know, that is excellent advice. I could list a number of examples, but I think it is more valuable to tell you why this is important.

If you lived in Sweden, it would be foolish of you to try to set a story in Australia, a place you have never been. Such books cause a lot of laughter in Australia, assuming they get published. Unless you are an undertaker, it would probably be best not to write about an undertaker, unless you know onw or are willing to do the research to familiarize yourself with the industry. Readers like to be "pinned" to the setting, to feel they are grounded, to sense, as they move around with the characters, that they are not lost - not floating around somewhere in the troposphere. They may not know that people in Australia drink a lot of beer or wear extremely short shorts or which streets in Sydney are one-way, but somehow, they (includes editors) can sense when it's right. Perhaps without intending to, the author that is writing about what he knows subconsciously inserts into the text the "feel" for the place or subject s/he's writing about. Editors like this.

I hope this helps. If it does, a nice rating would be greatly appreciated. I am proud of my high scores over 1900 questions.

And good luck with your writing!  

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Susan Rand


I can answer questions about the elements of fiction and non-fiction writing: how to get started, writing techniques, re-writing, etc. I will NOT write for you, do critiques except from my website at, or give you ideas. I will not answer home-or-schoolwork questions in any category. If English is your second language, please say so, and I will make an exception. Please submit no more than one or two questions at once, as I tend to go into detail in my answers.


I wrote my first book in 1957 and have been writing and studying writing since. I have a BA in Written Communications, and have taught writing both privately and through adult education for 15 years. Have also edited (fiction books) for an online publisher and edited/wrote more than 100 articles for a teen sex education site. Currently writing web content and mentoring beginning writers.

BA degree in Written Communication

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