by Kendra Lavec
It’s natural, I believe, to versions of ourselves that others would never see.
That’s the catch, is it not? To not let others see our grand ideas of what we wish to be. These grand heroes, whether they just be more confident, likeable versions of ourselves, or a knight in shining armour, saving the meek from the dastardly. Fan fiction writers call this “self-insertion” when they do it in their own writing. It’s a more conspicuous practice, the author clearly and unabashedly proclaiming out to the world, “This is who I want to be, this is who I aim to be, and I am proud of it,” where their peers can critique them openly.
Ernest Hemmingway wrote an alter ego, Nick Adams as a sort of autobiography. In fact, most alter ego writing that I’ve read about follow the same sort of idea. Usually the author and the alter ego share many similarities, like birthdays and shared experiences. but the alter ego has second half, with parts tweaked to make them “better” or an opportunity to share personal stories without fear of ridicule. So why do we as a society not openly embrace it more often, especially in our different writing mediums? I had little knowledge of this trend until I had researched it myself, but it is a powerful tool in personal therapy and creative writing.
I speak from personal experience as I have been developing my own extravagant alter ego since I was very young. It started out as a way to keep myself entertained when I was not yet ready to fall asleep, though my parents begged me to go to bed. Instead of bothering them and wandering around the house, I took to daydreaming about myself in whatever world I was currently obsessed with, be it a television show or book. This habit took aggressive hold over me, at first making the characters disjointed and act not at all how their original creator would have wanted. As I grew up, it evolved into a way I could explore these characters and their own motivations. I made sure to stay true to what they were, giving them realistic storylines with my alter ego along for the ride, though she was a bit ridiculously overpowered.
She, my alter ego, has helped with my writing so much. We mirror each other in that my writing can be a bit pretentious and dramatic. She refuses to let go of cliques and I have yet to learn how. The stories I weave for her are sappy and romantic, and I stay away from the romance genre for that exact reason. By contrast, her adventures are daring and impossibly strange. Yet, usually these all take place in worlds that have already been built by others, so I dare not write them down. Though I applaud fan fiction writers for their creativity and resilience, I could not do the same for the huge universe I have formed. Indeed, it reminds me of how similar we are. Endings are a huge problem. My writing has always struggled with interesting and tied-together endings. High school English was not a problem for me when I was younger, but my essays always had the same note: “weak ending”. All of her story-point endings are similarly lacking.
Beyond my writing, I know myself so well. My alter ego shares my ideals and reservations. As overpowered as she may be, she has a crippling fear of zombies and can be prone to panic attacks. I can accept that I am a bit overbearing and loud around my friends, as she is. I find that when I am not practicing music, I suffer. She plays many instruments well and is constantly learning new ones. All these connections are incredibly therapeutic for me, just as it may have been for the authors before me that were brave enough to share their alter egos with the world. An exploration of who they really wanted to be, to see ideals that can be reached, or ones that may see them in a light of perfection. An opportunity to change a moment they may have regretted, a word they could never take back. It is something I find easy to relate to.
Alter egos can be a way to look critically into our own flawed selves. My fear of zombies is linked to my need of control into any situation. The entire idea of zombies is losing your body to this monster from which you can never go back. My body is very much my own, and my alter ego fears that whatever power she may have would be corrupted or abused by her zombie self. I’ve also given her immortality because I used to be terrified of the endless idea of death. When I overcame my fear of passing away, I gave my alter ego a fitting, heroic death, a self-acceptance of death being out of my own control. By understanding why I fear these things, I can work out how to fix things beyond my control. My alter ego gives me ways to explore these dynamics.
All of this is very personal. Hemmingway’s Nick Adams had very personal experiences that gives us a little light into Hemmingway as a person. One of the Nick Adam stories, “Now I Lay Me” is a dark look into how shell-shocked soldiers started to fear falling asleep because they did not want their souls escaping their bodies. An exploration of a fear makes Hemmingway very relatable to me, but I cannot imagine that would have been an easy thing for him to share. I’ve never told anyone about my alter ego before this.
So does personal reservations about how peers will react hold us back from sharing these characters? This is most likely the case. However, these characters are fantastic ways of exploring not only our own writing and how to better it, but our own selves. It would be a good idea to start the conversation to explore them together, if not the details, but the deeper implications of what they mean both creatively and personally to each of us.
Who knows, maybe it will even bring writing style.