It’s inevitable for an author not to create someone that carries their traits, shares their taste in food and greatest pain.
When you experience an identity crisis that combines other mental health issues, journaling and pills won’t necessarily fix anything nor give you any sense of accomplishment.
Journaling helps you identify the problems, but you’ll be alone with those problems that cause you pain. I’m not telling you to inflict your misery on others, but there are more effective ways to make people care (about you)—create an alter ego on paper.
Don’t let that pain go to waste.
Defining your alter ego – fighting identity crisis
Some people don’t realize it, but they dislike the effects of reality just as much as you sometimes do. Instead of facing them, they often seek distractions. They might not be aware, but when they read or play video games, they step into someone else’s shoes to give their ego a break.
Have you ever pushed away “complicated” friends because psychologists advised removing toxic people from your life? Of course, it’s for a good reason—no judgement intended, except that complicated people are very different from toxic ones. If a friend is complicated, they probably need patience and someone to listen to them.
If you walk away from them, do you wonder what would happen to them?
As a first-generation German girl with Chinese looks, I grew up in a white-dominant town in northern Germany. While I couldn’t escape the ordeal of an identity crisis, my childhood was beyond normal. I wanted to be like those white kids, look like them. I thought to be white meant to be flawless.
I didn’t discover my confidence until I was 15. I made my first friends late, which had turned me into a late bloomer. However, my new attitude began to attract people. I had accepted who I was (for the most part), and everyone liked it. Yet, I wasn’t mentally all that stable.
I noticed that most of my friends, and many Germans in general, hated weakness. They were mentally very robust and judged anyone that showed signs of self-pity. “Snap out of it” is all I remember hearing. It wasn’t always easy for them to see where I was coming from.
But I wasn’t all that perfect because I didn’t drink enough. Peer pressure got me to fight my aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 deficiency—in other words—I have the Asian flush. If you miss the required enzyme to tolerate alcohol and you continue to drink, it could have fatal effects (such as esophageal cancer), but I didn’t care. I still wanted to be like them, look like them.
Did I want to be white? I didn’t know until many years later when I reread my stories, starting with fan fiction that I wrote as a teenager. Never was the female protagonist a coloured girl. And when I wrote from a white boy’s perspective, he would pity foreign girls that were bullied. But the Germans teenagers I knew never pitied anyone.
One is not aware when they create an alter ego to cope with who they are—not quite in the early stages when they discover writing as a form of therapy. Picture your life as episodes of a long series and pick the ones that significantly impacted your identity.
An alter ego is similar to you. Other times, you create someone you wish to be. I suppose that was the direction I went with my novel. At first, without realizing it.
Everyone experiences an identity crisis as they grow up, along with role confusion. You encounter many aspects of the self. There is who you think you are and your perception of who others think you are. Next, you tackle questions such as, “Who am I? What are my values? What’s my purpose?” It takes time.
People’s perception of you is often the mirror of your actual self. If you don’t like what they see, you must define yourself as fast and best as you can. Focus on your strengths, do what you love—as long as it means something to you (and when you’re ready, also take into account the people around you).
Authors who write in the first person can be unreliable narrators, and only through the eyes of other plot characters do you see a true reflection of who the “I” really is. That’s why interaction is crucial in storytelling. It’s the only way to bring clarity to the unreliable narration.
Creating your alter ego
Let’s assume you have the perfect character and story idea. Do you already have the end in mind? If you do, the chances are that the characters are barely connected to who you are because you already have a set idea of who they are.
Often, when you write in the first-person, you’d like to test the waters and look for plot potential. If something is brooding inside of you, it means a story is challenging you to discover it. It’s a sign you need to write it.
You think of existing first-person characters that you’ve enjoyed reading, and they will give you a lead. It was how I started my first novel. However, I never thought in terms of creating an alter ego. I’m quite the opposite of tall and blonde, and I never studied medicine at Yale. Though there was a time, I wish I’d been devoid of emotions.
When my tutor read the opening of the first draft, he said my protagonist lacked motivation. He asked what her purpose was. What did she want? Why did she exist?
In fact, he changed the question to: “What do you want?”
It’s a haunting question to which there is only one radical answer, but I didn’t precisely know then. But he made sure I found out.
Once I knew, I had to remember to echo it on almost every page of the novel. While I was doing that, I realized that I had created my “other me.”
However, our distinct images were a clear sign that she and I weren’t the same. She had a uniform that defined her; I had none. She had a unique personality; I was not like that.
Little did I know that my twin didn’t need to have the same qualities as I did. Robert Louis Stevenson knew it very well. Altered states and unrecognizable differences may portray good and evil, but you’re the same person.
Your alter ego could be the reality of your suppressed self. The deeper the identity crisis, the more drastic the results.
The purpose of your alter ego
Oscar Wilde said that he wanted to be Dorian Gray—beautiful, young and charming. However, he was nothing but old Basil. Lord Henry portrayed everyone in society. And who survived? Yes, you can’t kill society. It will always tell you who you should be.
I can’t give away the end here, but I created my alter ego to save myself. Selfishly. She is also proof that even if you’re white, you’re not perfect either. And you don’t have to be perfect to be someone’s saviour.
Your alter ego’s purpose is to eliminate the inadequacies you see in yourself. Conversely, their inadequacies make them perfect.
You envy your alter ego’s perfection so that you want to inflict your actual pain on them, make it their own. At the same time, you don’t. That’s when you begin to see the inevitable forebodings of the story. As the story takes its course, you’ll notice that while giving this character a purpose, you are, in fact, driving them to a dark place.
I had dumped all my negative emotions on her. That was my way of creating empathy. (For myself?)
Your alter ego represents the potential sides you don’t manifest, whether those sides are repressed or imaginative. It makes them strong and unique. It also drags the author into the story, and the reader begins to see the purpose of why the author had to write that story.
In fiction, you can choose any scenario you’d like to convey that particular conflict or pain (to which real people have turned a blind eye). Show off your alter ego and entertain your reader in every chapter imaginable. Authors are allowed to do that. Chances are that a reader feels the same way but on a different level; your story helps them vent.
People don’t only look to empathize with a fictional character; sometimes, they want to identify their flaws in someone else. It can be anyone. It’s just healthier if it’s an alter ego—a fictional character.
Pseudonym – pen name
Some people wondered why I used a pen name to self-publish my novel. Not only do I have a fascination with Philip K. Dick’s Rick Deckard, but I was afraid that publishers, agents would judge my family name and classify me as an ESL student writer (which I most likely was 11 years ago).
Encountering bias was the last thing I wanted when releasing my first book. BIPOC indie writers weren’t exactly thriving. I thought that having a German background might rule out chances of discrimination. It’s sad that I ever felt that way.
After all, I’d decided to include an author photo on the back cover. Someone told me that indie authors had to be loud and visible. Suppose using a pen name wouldn’t have mattered?
Nowadays, I feel more confident writing under PCD; it makes me think that I’ve accomplished something as an author and writer. PC is who I am and who made PCD happen.
I’m not hiding anything.
After all, what’s in a name?