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Kaja Isn’t Me: Writing a Character Who Shares the Author’s Background

When the main character in a story clearly reflects at least some of the author’s background, and on top of that, the book is written in the first person perspective, the question about the so-called “self-insert” seems inevitable. Did the author just write a better, more idealized version of herself? Is the main character a reflection of her imaginary self or a way to deal with some insecurities?

So how is it this time? How much of Joanna is in Kaja—or how much does Kaja resemble Joanna?

When the first seeds of ideas for Humanborn were sprouting, the story’s main character was also coming to life. I didn’t plan for her to be Polish, but since I already knew that I’d be heavily drawing from my own perception of Dublin and Ireland, setting the scenes in familiar places and writing about things with which I had firsthand experiences, it made sense to make her Polish.

Of course, no nation in the world is uniform, and all Polish people don’t think the same way or have the same opinions, but it didn’t mean that there aren’t similarities between some individuals especially given the same national identity and experiences, so Kaja could borrow some of my background without becoming a copy of me. And it seemed a more reasonable choice—to write about what I knew and could relate to—than picking another nationality just to avoid an accusation of a self-insert.

Following that, it made sense to make her live in the area that I lived in for some years. It would lend authenticity to the descriptions and the character’s perception of the area. There were parts of Dublin in which I never set my foot in, despite having lived in Ireland for over 8 years, and some others which I didn’t visit that often. If I focused on them only for the sake of Kaja sharing less of my experiences or knowledge, I could as well set the story in the city of Cork. Since the whole book idea stemmed from my nostalgia for Ireland after moving to the USA, I wanted to share a story at least partially based on my memories rather than making everything up.

At the same time, there was always a certain detachment between me and Kaja. I could relate to her in some aspects, while others would be entirely foreign to me as a person. Being an author means that I often look through my characters’ eyes and examine their thought processes, and in a way, it requires becoming them for a little while. But it’s exactly that: becoming someone else rather than projecting myself into someone.

Kaja and I are different people, and like all people, we have traits that are similar and those that are different. Both she and I are gamers, but while I hauled my book collection between apartments, countries, and continents, Kaja isn’t much of a reader. She just didn’t strike me as one, sorry! She’s much more agile than I am, but she doesn’t care for dancing while I enjoy it despite being a general klutz. The list could go on.

So, in the end, Kaja has only as much of my experiences and background as it was necessary to tell a good story about a Polish immigrant in a magical Dublin, but that aside, she’s her own person, with her own somewhat tragic back story, and her own personality. And I think this is for the best, because I neither would like to be her and face decisions she has to make, nor I would make a good character myself. I think authors rarely do: we’re here to tell the stories, not to partake in them.

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Humanborn is out now, so if you like non-romance open world urban fantasy, give it a go! You can learn more about it, read sample chapters, and get both ebook and paperback in all major online stores, as well as through subscriptions like Kobo Plus and Scribd.

Joanna Maciejewska

Joanna Maciejewska is a fantasy and science fiction author who enjoys all things SFF: books, movies, and video games. Her short stories appeared in magazines and anthologies in Polish and in English. Her epic fantasy adventure series, starting with By the Pact, is available in ebook and paperback at all major retailers.

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