You Tell Us: Can You Tell When the Heroine (or Hero) is the Author’s Avatar?


Recently I was reading a writer friend’s manuscript and discussing how it could be stronger. (This is pretty much what writers do when they’re not writing: talking about how to make the writing better. We’re dreadfully boring people.) She’d written an urban fantasy, with a strong heroine – a kick-ass heroine, even – and told the story in the first person, from the heroine’s point of view. The heroine ended up being very much like my friend, only supercharged. She had the same interests, tastes and worldview as the author, but she could ALSO wield magic, defeat monsters, withstand mortal injuries without flinching and still banter with witty turns of phrase.

This could be partly the “Mary Sue”syndrome, where the heroine is everything that is admirable and wonderful, with no discernible flaws. But I think of this as the “avatar” syndrome – like in role playing games, where you build a character that acts for you. Or in the movie, where they could transmit their intelligence to work a powerful, more beautiful version of themselves.

I think it’s very easy for first-person characters to become masks that authors put on. I’ve done it, myself. After all, when you write a story in first-person, the author is looking through that character’s eyes. “The dragon breathed fire, raking me with its claws, but I stabbed it with my sword!” But really, the first person character should be the reader’s avatar. When you read, you want to be the one defeating the dragon, not sitting by while the author does it.

So, I’m curious – have you ever noticed this, as a reader? Does reading ever have that “role-playing” feel? What are the best books that don’t do this?


Jeffe Kennedy took the crooked road to writing, stopping off at neurobiology, religious studies and environmental consulting before her creative writing began appearing in places like Redbook, Puerto del Sol, Wyoming Wildlife, Under the Sun and Aeon. A BDSM  novella, Petals and Thorns, came out in 2010, heralding yet another branch of her path, into erotica and romantic fantasy fiction. Since then, erotic shorts in the Blood Currency series—Feeding the Vampire and Hunting the Siren—have come out from Ellora’s Cave. Carina Press is publishing the Facet of Desire series, which includes Sapphire, Platinum and soon, Ruby. Her fantasy romance novel, Rogue’s Pawn, book one in A Covenant of Thorns, came out in July, 2012. Jeffe lives in Santa Fe, with two Maine coon cats, a border collie, plentiful free-range lizards and frequently serves as a guinea pig for a professional acupuncturist.

Find her on Facebook ( and Twitter (@jeffekennedy) or visit her at her website

8 thoughts on “You Tell Us: Can You Tell When the Heroine (or Hero) is the Author’s Avatar?”

  1. I’ve always wondered a little bit about Anita Blake. From reading Laurell K. Hamilton’s blogs I gather that they definitely share a fear of flying and a religious background.

  2. Oh, yes – I suspect there’s a lot of overlap in that one, Nicole!

  3. I’m going to put Bella of the Twilight series up there as a classic Mary Sue. The guys at Yeah It’s That Bad (movie review podcast) do a great run down on Mary Sue characteristics that Bella exemplifies.

  4. True, Bella is the classic ‘Sue. I don’t know that she’s an avatar for SM though (I actually have a somewhat elaborate theory about Twilight being a revamp of a particular fanfic from a particular fanfic author in a particular fandom, that was very very well known but never finished and that the ‘fic author attempted to remove from the internet because she just couldn’t handle the pressure of all the reviews, fans, etc…but that’s neither here nor there).

    I get the avatar thing more often with suspense/murder mystery heroines, like Sue Grafton’s or Janet Evanovich’s ladies. It doesn’t bother me the way a Mary Sue would, because it isn’t a true self-insertion-fantasy character; in fact, the characters’ flaws and failures are part of what makes them so popular, I suspect. I just think the authors identify very strongly with their heroines and inject a lot of themselves into the characters’ personalities. But can’t resist giving them the ability to kick a lot of ass. And really, who can blame them? Wouldn’t we ALL kick ass and screw around with Ranger if we had the chance?

  5. Yeah, Michelle – I’ve heard other readers say that bothered them with Bella. But I agree with Del that she’s not really an avatar for the author as much. I think that’s very interesting with Grafton or Evanovitch. I could see how the detective heroine would really work this way. I wonder if JD Robb’s Eve functions that way for Nora Roberts? They certainly play with that with her author photo on those books.

  6. Is it okay for an author to answer this question?

    Any of my friends who have read my work, published or in-progress, ALWAYS see a version of me in my heroines. Mannerisms, commonly used figures of speech, favorite foods, favorite music, etc, but same token, I tend to throw similar insecurities and dysfunctions into those characters as well. Having gone through therapy in my early 20s, I learned to recognize those flaws for what they are. While I’ve tried to improve upon those flaws in day-to-day life, they sure are useful to use in fictional character/plot development.

    I don’t know if I could write a story featuring a heroine who isn’t a semblance of me in some respect. My stories, although fiction, are still an extension of who I am and a verbal illustration of my view of the world. Who better to tell describe that view than one of my alter egos??

  7. Liz Flaherty says:

    It’s not anything I ever noticed, but it’s an interesting concept…which will undoubtedly stay in my head. Sigh.

  8. I agree with Jordyn. Regardless of the over all character, I find myself living through their actions. Or maybe experience in thought their lives.
    I once heard Jodi Picoult speak. She said many of her stories start with what if questions.
    Whether a character is an avatar for the author or not, if written well I think the character can become an avatar for the reader.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Wait! Before You Leave…

Subscribe to the Carina Press Newsletter & Save 20% on Your Next Order!

Sign up to receive newsletters, special offers and other promotional emails from Carina Press* to get the inside scoop on all our new books!
Plus, you'll get an exclusive coupon to save 20% on your next purchase.

*Harlequin Enterprises ULC (Carina Press) is located at Bay Adelaide Centre, East Tower, 22 Adelaide Street West, 41st Floor, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5H 4E3 and sends informational and promotional emails on behalf of itself and Harlequin Digital Sales Corporation. Subscribers can unsubscribe at any time.