A couple of weeks ago, I watched (most of) Iron Man for the first time. Yes, I’m behind in the Hollywood scene. Having a toddler and living with your parents will do that. Anyway, one of the highlights for me was Stan Lee’s traditional appearance. I know, it’s geekiness unleashed. I can’t help it, though. Stan Lee…M. Night Shyamalan…Alfred Hitchcock…Stephen King…I get a kick out of directors and writers who slide themselves into the story in sneaky little ways.
That’s not to say I’d be a fan if they inserted themselves in the story too much. I’d be much less thrilled if Stan Lee entered the story as Iron Man’s full-time mentor instead of a passing comment on the stairs.
Movies, of course, are an entirely different case from books. If an author inserts him or herself into a book overtly, it’s rarely charming. (I’ve never actually read a book where I found it anything but annoying, but I’m leaving open the benefit of the doubt.) On the other hand, I’ve never read a book where an author placed himself in a cameo similar to the names I mentioned above. It might be interesting to see how that worked. Hmmm…
It’s a different story when the author successfully inserts her own thoughts into the characters’ thoughts and opinions. I happen to think Shirley Rousseau Murphy does it well. You know they’re her thoughts, but they fit so well with the characters, you only notice the insertion if you think about it. Again, though, it only really works if the reader happens to agree with the characters. Too much opinion, I think, will turn the reader off if world views don’t happen to align. I know it’s happened when I read other books in the past.
Then I think of writers like Orson Scott Card, who disassociates himself to a sometimes astonishing degree. I just finished his novel, Enchantment. In it, the protagonist is a Ukrainian Jew who spent the first decade of his life in the USSR. As I read the book, I found myself wondering at times, “What happened to the author to make him dislike Christians so much?” Then I pulled myself back to reality and remembered that the author is a Mormon who was born in Washington State and now lives in North Carolina. He doesn’t dislike Christians; he successfully associated with a character who distrusted them, often with good historical reason. It was brilliant, and I admire him for introducing me to another worldview that made me examine my own.
When it comes down to it, though, we all insert ourselves into our writing to some degree. It’s nearly impossible not to. We are our writing. Our writing reflects, if not our entire personality, then some facet or some angle of ourselves that can’t help reflecting onto the pages of a story. We may not be our characters. We may not even like our characters. They may not hold our opinions or share our Myers-Briggs personality type. Still, something of the writer remains.
So, maybe I don’t have to make a cameo in my own work. None of us do. My work is me. Your work is you. That’s more than enough.