MINDY NEWELL: WHO’S THE REAL YOU WHEN YOU’RE WRITING?

Avatars! Can’t write with ’em, can’t write without ’em. Do you create characters who act as avatars for your personal point of view? Do you do it without making them simpering strawmen? Well, just to make sure:

faceyourmanga-mngWho’s the Real You When You’re Writing?
by Mindy Newell

“Whenever there is a decline of righteousness and rise of unrighteousness then I send forth Myself.”
—Lord Krishna to Prince Arjuna,The Bhagavadgita (Song of God)

Sanskrit in origin, and a central principle of the Hindu religion, an avatar is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “the incarnation of a deity in human or animal form to counteract an evil in the world.  A central principle of Hinduism, it usually refers to 10 appearances of Vishnu, including an incarnation as the Buddha Gautama and the Buddha yet to come, called Kalkin.”

In the 21st century, it has also come to mean that little picture that represents the user, blogger, columnist, commentator, gamer, or fan on the Internet, and (usually) will tell you something about that person, whether it is whom that user, blogger, columnist, commentator, gamer, or fan admires or identifies with, or even their sense of humor about themselves.  (See my avatar on my Facebook page, for instance, which is from the artwork of Anne Taintor and reads “I plead insanity.”)

James Cameron’s Avatar blended the two definitions in his hero, Jake Sully—Jake is both the “user” behind his genetically engineered Na’vi body (Jake’s avatar) and the “incarnation” of the savior of the Na’vi civilization.

Writers can also use avatars. (Sometimes the name is the writer’s own, other times not.)  Vietnam War veteran Tim O’ Brien did it brilliantly in his The Things They Carried, which the main character is named Tim O’Brien.  Kurt Vonnegut also used the device in Breakfast Of Champions and Slaughterhouse Five—and not only were the protagonists, Kilgore Trout (a play on the iconic science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon, btw) and Billy Pilgrim thinly veiled versions of Vonnegut, but Kurt Vonnegut appears in both novels as a character—and some speculate that Robert Heinlein’s Jubal Harshaw of Stranger In A Strange Land is a self-insertion, although the late, great, and very missed Julie Schwartz told me that Jubal was Arthur C. Clarke, who actually did live in his own private “Shangri-la” compound on Sri Lanka, nee Ceylon, complete with the three beautiful female secretaries.  (I don’t know if Julie was kidding or not about the beautiful secretaries.  Sometimes it was hard to tell with Julie.)

Read it all