Living Vicariously Through Characters

I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that I live vicariously through my characters.

A typical question that comes up during author Q&As is “What made you decide to write ___?” It especially comes up for writers of paranormal because paranormal stories are outside of typical human experience. Romance is something that almost everyone experiences in life, but how many vampires and werewolves have you encountered? (If you’ve encountered some, you can write to me and tell me about it.)

My answer to that question has always been twofold. One, I was always interested in paranormal and supernatural characters because they are “other.” I was always an outsider and so identified with “other” characters. Two, because I was bullied as a kid, I always wanted special powers so that I could defend myself against my tormentors and even “teach them a lesson” with a spell to make their hair fall out, or something just as humbling.

Now that I’m an adult and writing about paranormal or “super” characters, I realize that I live vicariously through them. A piece of me goes into most of my main characters, but I also ascribe qualities to them that I wish I had. If I write a vampire who is physically invincible, it’s because I would love to be physically invincible. If I write a fearless, blunderbuss-wielding pirate, it’s because I want to be a pirate, dammit! This applies to superheroes as well. I’d love to be an ass-kicking, lasso/nunchuck/Chakram-wielding badass, defending the meek, fighting evil, and ridding the world of asshats.

Fanny Davenport as pirate
Fanny Davenport as pirate

And so the task that lies before me when I’m writing these characters is to not infuse them entirely with my personality, desires, or weaknesses. This is supposed to be a person who is larger than life, and with too much of myself in them, they become smaller. They need to be their own entity with their own personality. And when I think about my weaknesses, I can get kind of bummy about it, and I don’t want my characters to be bummy. Or whiny or insipid or unsympathetic. I want them to shine in whatever way they are supposed to shine.

Not that paranormal or “super” characters don’t have weaknesses. They absolutely do. That’s what makes them “human” (if that’s the goal) and sympathetic. If they’re not meant to be sympathetic characters, then their weaknesses are what take them down, which readers want.

Gerda Grönberg
Gerda Grönberg

But when I’m writing these characters, I think, “If I were this person, what would I want to be like, look like, and be able to do?” And, “What would I love to do in this situation, if I had no limitations?” When my characters do all the kinds of things that I would love to do, when they save someone from danger, when they kick ass, wield weapons like pros, and scare the bejeesus out of their opponents/enemies, I am living vicariously through them. I am a hero and I am vindicated.



  1. Vicarious thrills are my fav! Who needs to bungee jump when I can push my MC over the edge and just describe what happens next 🙂


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