I am writing about a person who is transported 10 years into the past, and has the chance to relive their life (actually being able to: 'knowing what I know now I would...')

The trouble is I keep projecting myself into the protagonists shoes.

This is a problem because it is limiting (me imagining) what the protagonist may do. And is kinda creepy because I am imagining how my current relationships would be different (would have gone out with that person, wouldn't have gone out with this other person etc).

How do I prevent myself (as a writer) from projecting my self (and people I know ) into my protagonist, (supporting cast)?

  • 1
    I don't understand what exactly is your problem. Does your character know he's been transported 10 years in his past and he could relive his life? If that's the case and he shares your personality traits, motivations​, and desires, he is bound to behave the way you would in that situation.
    – user39269
    Aug 12, 2017 at 10:15
  • My character knows he jumped back 10 years, he knows he can't have the same life he had before, so is going to live a 'better' (or at least different) one now. He is sharing my traits etc, but I (as a writer) don't want him to. Aug 12, 2017 at 12:34

6 Answers 6


Your problem appears to be twofold. By writing in this way you are projecting onto this character:

  1. Your personality, and
  2. Your background

Your character is limited by the decisions YOU would make in the same situation and your story is limited by all YOUR grievances and regrets and "what ifs". Both of these issues can be solved at once: get better at writing characters.

Some people never get bored of writing characters similar or the same as themselves. But it's a good exercise to try. So take a look at yourself and put yourself into a few words. Then, get the antonyms of those words: this is your new character. If you use your head, they use their gut. If you dream of a house and family, they dream of solitude and travel. If you had siblings, they had none. And so on.

All of your characters will probably have some semblance to you, whether it's your love of peanut butter or your childhood trauma. And that's OK, but better in small doses. If you struggle with this, start with a character template. I use enneagram or Myers-Brigg to come up a basic personality type. Then when my character comes up against decisions or dilemmas, big or small, instead of looking inside my head for solutions, I instead think of that character's "type" and what they would do. Ask yourself what drives them, what are their hopes and fears, their moral values, what makes them tick.

While coming up with the personality, think about the character's history as well. What made them like this? What was their childhood like? What did they struggle with because of their hotheadedness, their absentmindedness, their being an only child? How does this effect what they hope and fear from the future?

It's likely that these answers will be different to yours. If it's important that this character is not too similar to you (as in this case), make sure they are. Remember: your character is not you. The life they have lived is different to yours. The way they choose to relive that life is different again. But only you can make them. So start at character creation and make them different!


The self-insert doesn't have to be bad. It's just that most of the time when we see one, it's this perfect person with no flaws and perfect judgment. You of ten years ago might make the perfect choice with your ex, given another chance. But it's equally (or more) likely you would just do something else dumb.

If your character is still flawed, it's probably interesting and fine. If your character does the right thing every time, it's probably not a super-compelling read.

Maybe try writing a handful of things you would never do, and see if any of those things lead you down a road that you like.


There is always a temptation to be didactic. At least, that is always a temptation for me. Having got your character into some sticky situation, there is a temptation to treat them as you would a child, to advise them on the sensible course of action that will get them out of the sticky situation with the least damage or loss. But novels are not about sensible behavior. They are, to one extent or another, about folly.

The cause of this folly is not usually foolishness, but passion -- the extreme attachment to some particular value -- that causes the character to choose folly over sense. The author needs to suppress their inner dad voice and focus on reportage rather than modeling good behavior. (Assuming their purpose is not to write a specifically didactic novel, of course.)

An autobiographical author can, of course, record their own descent into folly and its consequences. But they are only in a position to recognize their folly after the fact then they have grown more sensible. And this means that their autobiographical novel must necessarily be a confession of personal folly. No wonder there is a temptation to have the character behave more sensibly, since the author doubtless feels that the reader will see them in the character and will judge them.

To suppress the dad voice, and the apologetic self, I believe, you have to focus on the passion. What disordered (or perhaps laudable) passion drove the character into this situation? Their behavior will continue to be driven by this passion until the crisis, at least. The train is going to jump the track, the engineer's hand firm on the throttle to the end. You can't stop it without derailing your novel. You can only weep for it, and tell the tale in all its folly and pain and doom.


The simple answer is that it is impossible to avoid inserting aspects of your life into a story without having a lobotomy. And in the spirit of 'write what you know'. . . it's not like its a bad thing.

Turns out John Grisham was a lawyer and JK Rowling had designs on being a teacher, who knew?

You can avoid even subconsciously inserting your life and your world view into your story.

I live in a cosmopolitan city. The following was pointed out by a particularly astute agent:

  • The MC is Black British.

  • His wife is White British.

  • Her best friend is French.

  • There are no pets or children in the story.

  • No featured character has two functioning parents.

I'm not about to go into the details of my personal life but . . . welcome to my world.

My mild Aspergers makes me a master of "show don't tell". I can tell you he left her. I can tell you that she began to drink - a lot. I can tell you that she cried at night. I'm unable to go into honest details about how she really felt.

Don't fight it - embrace it.


I suggest taking a few steps in order to abstract your identification with the character by one level:

First, define the character by their traits and backstory (which may contain the reasons for said traits). Make note of differences between them and yourself.

Second, look for connection points between their experience and yours. Even if you're very different people on the surface, most writers can't help but find something of themselves in every character they create. If you struggle, find partial parallels to guess what a situation might be like. For example, if you've never been beaten up, but you've felt physical pain, have been verbally attacked and have felt pain and panic, you may be able to assemble an approximate feeling for the situation. These are the entry points for you to empathise with the character.

Third, try to apply the character's experience to yourself by not just imagining what the current you would do or feel in a situation but how having had their relevant experiences would change your feelings and decisions.

This way you can leverage your ability to project yourself into a situation in order to improve your character writing, or at least that's how I usually do it.


You may be a realist entering into another world of what if... You are the character now, imagine that character. What would the character do, which you wouldn't. It is hard to separate, I have done the same...

But who are we, but the character we create! :)

  • Sirry typos all index ..small keys :)
    – Irene
    Aug 12, 2017 at 1:41
  • 3
    Hi and welcome to writers SE! I think I understand the point you are mostly trying to make and you are right about how we do put a little of ourselves into the characters. Would you mind expanding some more on your thoughts with this? You can do that by editing your answer :)
    – ggiaquin16
    Aug 14, 2017 at 4:51

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