The Professional Writer: Pseudonyms & Personas (Part II)

Hi Folks,

As promised, in this one we’ll deal with the persona. First, again, let’s all get on the same page.

A lot of folks believe a pseudonym is a persona and vice versa, but if that’s true (for them) they aren’t using it right. You’ll remember that a pseudonym (pen name) is something you might choose to use when you want to publish something without allowing others to know you’re the author, or perhaps you want to let them know selectively. It’s just a different name, albeit one that probably appeals to you.

The persona is different. A persona is a façade. The writer doesn’t simply call himself a different name, but assumes a character, complete with that character’s personality. We all do this to some degree in real life as our situation changes. For example, the You who is speaking to the police officer who just pulled you over for speeding doesn’t act or talk the same or use the same facial expressions as the You who is a happy or angry or sad wife or husband or parent or the You who is a sister or brother, daughter or son, aunt or uncle, employer or employee or friend.

But the writer who dons a persona goes to greater lengths, at least in my case. The persona is a whole being, a character who writes.

I currently write poetry, nonfiction and some fiction as Harvey Stanbrough. When I want to write a magic realism story in the manner of Gabriel Garcia Márquez or Isabel Allende, I put on the persona of Gervasio Arrancado. I write MR with Gervasio’s sentence structures, tones, moods, inflections, and so on. He writes very poetic prose. When I want to write strong mainstream fiction, I put on the character and sensibilities of Nick Porter. He uses much shorter, more stark and vivid descriptions. When I want to allow my neurotic side to come out and play, I put on Eric Stringer. Eric’s just a little bit nuts. (And if you stand in the path of a tidal wave, you might experience a little bit of moisture.)

Okay, so that’s what happens when I get a story idea and assign it to one of my friends (my personas). But does the persona himself ever bring an idea to the mix? Absolutely. There are a lot of times when I have no choice. Gervasio most often will tap gently on the door. “Mi amigo, tengo una historia muy importante y insistente. My friend, I have a story that’s both important and insistent.” What can I do? I have to lend him my fingers and give him the keyboard. Could I write magic realism without the assistance of Gervasio? Possibly, but not half as well. Remember, I’m writing into the dark here, so my subconscious (Gervasio’s subconscious) is running the show.

And the same thing happens with Nicolas Z (Nick) Porter. Nick generally will walk up while I’m in the midst of doing something else. Sometimes he’s smoking a pipe. He’ll watch me calmly until I can take it anymore. When I turn and say, “What is it, Nick?” he’ll speak quietly, dramatically, and give me a line like, “The days were rough and dusty. In the evening we lay awake listening to the grub worms eating.” Now I ask you, could you just go on with other things? It’s a little unnerving.

But if you really want to live on the edge, put on a persona like Eric Stringer. Eric most often barges in and slaps a newspaper on my desk. “Have you seen this? I have got to write  about this! Move over!” or “Hey, did’ja ever wonder how a rabbit feels after it’s been caught, while it’s being carried in the coyote’s mouth but before it’s died? Here, scootch over and I’ll show you.” I suspect Eric might be related to Bruce Dern back there somewhere.

Frankly, I find it a little easier to deny Eric than the others. But no worries. The way Eric lives, I suspect he’ll meet with an accident before too long anyway. Stay tuned. Probably the only question will be whether Nick or Gervasio will write the story.

So where does one find a persona? A truly famous writer might tell you he gets all his personas at the same place he gets his ideas—a little shop up in Schenectady—but I don’t have that kind of money. My personas began as characters. It’s that simple. I liked them enough (or in Eric’s case, he was interesting enough) that I brought them out to play.

I urge you to try writing as a persona… or rather, to allow a persona to write for you. If you have a character about whom you feel very strongly, invite him or her to the other side of the keyboard and see what happens. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Oh, and just in case you’re wondering, yes, I sometimes hide my identity behind a psuedonym. A writer can also hide his or her identity behind a persona. However, I don’t I mind letting others know that my friends (my personas) are also me. Frankly, each of them enables me to write stories that I couldn’t write otherwise, so I’m grateful to both support them and announce that they and I are one person. Of course, I do have other personas as well….

As the old saying goes,

Roses are red,
violets are blue.
I’m schizophrenic
and so am I. 🙂

‘Til next time, happy writing!