Sunday, April 20, 2014

I'm not Gabriella Giovanni

By Kristi Belcamino

A few weeks ago when I got a sneak peek at the cover for my novel, Blessed are the Dead, featuring a dark-haired woman, I showed it to a good friend who has read the book.

His response, “Huh. I always imagined Gabriella looked just like you.”

Because the woman on my book cover doesn’t look like me. Not really. (See sidebar to the right for the picture of Gabriella on my book cover, sidebar to the left for my picture.)

It isn’t the first time someone who has read Blessed are the Dead has said this. Some people read my book and think I’m the main character.

In a way, I think it is sort of natural for readers (me included) to assign attributes of a book’s character — physical and otherwise — to the character’s creator, the author.

Sure, there are similarities:

Like Gabriella, I’m Italian-American, have longish brown hair, and worked as a crime reporter in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Like my character, I spent several months trying to convince a man who kidnapped and killed girls and women to confess his crimes to me.

But I’m not Gabriella Giovanni.

Proof — she is smarter, wittier, prettier, and a much better reporter than I ever was.

In addition, her life has had more than it’s fair share of tragedies. I have (making the sign of the cross here) led a pretty uneventful life this way and count my blessings every single day that this is the case.

Is it natural for readers to envision the character and the author as the same person? Maybe.

Heck, I’ve even been guilty of this myself.

After reading Jess Lourey’s books featuring spunky, loveable Mira James, I assumed that Jess — like her character, Mira — loved Nut Goodies. Not so much, Jess told me when I met her in person. She is completely indifferent to them, in fact.

Mystery writers might have this happen a lot because many books in our genre are written from a first person perspective, which brings us right into the character’s head. We know their thoughts and feelings first hand.

So, as readers, we tend to do this — we tend to think the author is the character.

But how about as writers? Do we throw ourselves into our characters too much? Or do we let them strike out in a life of their own?

Recently, I read a blog that mentioned this and a great way to test and see if you are putting yourself too much into your main character by looking at Myers Briggs personality traits.

Here is the blog that talks about this:

And a link to descriptions of the sixteen personality types.

I took the test. I took it years before, but wanted to see if I had changed. (I hadn’t.)

I am:

The Protector (INFJ)

Quietly forceful, original, and sensitive. Tend to stick to things until they are done. Extremely intuitive about people, and concerned for their feelings. Well-developed value systems, which they strictly adhere to. Well-respected for their perseverance in doing the right thing. Likely to be individualistic, rather than leading or following.

I looked at the descriptions of the 16 personality types to see which one matched Gabriella the best.
Gabriella is very clearly — based on not only my observations, but what other people have said about her — The Doer (ESTP)

The Doer (ESTP)

Friendly, adaptable, action-oriented. "Doers" who are focused on immediate results. Living in the here-and-now, they're risk-takers who live fast-paced lifestyles. Impatient with long explanations. Extremely loyal to their peers, but not usually respectful of laws and rules if they get in the way of getting things done. Great people skills.

If you look at the letters ESTP (extroverted, sensing, thinking, perceiving) — they are the exact opposite traits of INFJ (introverted, intuitive, feeling, judging).

So, according to a personality test, my character, Gabriella Giovanni, is the exact opposite of me. Wonder what a psychotherapist would have to say about that?

My question for you: As writers, do you inject too much of yourself in your characters? Do you consciously try to avoid this?

As readers: Do you often assume the character is a thinly veiled portrait of the author?


Holly West said...

In an early draft of Mistress of Fortune, my husband told me that Isabel Wilde was too much like me--that he recognized me in many of her attitudes and actions. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but in particular, she was too passive, letting things happen to her and then reacting rather than taking initiative in her investigation. Real life people are naturally more passive than fictional characters--as writers it's our job to create larger-than-life characters. Not super heroes, per se, but their good qualities as well as their flaws need to be amplified somewhat. In subsequent drafts I really tried to keep that in mind.

Kristi said...

Lucky you to get such keen feedback early on.
And you're right, we have to make them larger than life!

D.M. McGowan said...

I believe there is something of me in all my characters but none are "just like" me. I try to support certain traits in all my protagonists that I think are important but I usually also include characteristics that I don't display.
I had a video sent to me (to support "Homesteader")that I thought was alright. I showed it to my wife and two daughters (one is my main editor) and had my head ripped off. "Hank doesn't look anything like that!" and "Sharon is a lady despite how she makes a living and she certainly doesn't look like that." and "Who's doing that voice over? You can do a lot better than that!"
So, to avoid physical damage we have the audio done and are now waiting for the new pictures to go with it.
The "fail" video is at

Kristi said...

How funny! I put up a small argument about my cover because I like readers to imagine the character themselves without being told (or shown) what exactly the character looks like. With that said, they did a stellar job of picking a picture that looked like how* I * envision Gabriella Giovanni. Hopefully everyone else will be able to come up with his or her own ideas as to what she looks like.