Friday, March 26, 2010

Do you ever model characters on real people?

People often ask me about characters and real people.  They want to know if So and SO was based on (insert name of friend, colleague, relative here). 

I wouldn't say any character is based on any one real person.  However, some characters were
inspired or partly inspired by real people.  What I may do is give a character a certain relative's quirks or mannerisms, and a physical description similar to a friend, plus the aptitudes of a colleague.  Often the inspirations will be people I knew long ago, or people I did not know well, such as a teacher from grade school, or the teller I see regularly at the bank. 

As well, when I am trying to flesh out a character - give them a background, hobbies, phobias, experiences and so on - I often think of what people I know have said and done.  In Blood and Groom there is a mention that a character had once one trekking in the Himalayas.  That came out of hearing of an acquaintance's trip, but that's as far as it went.  The character in this case is male - the real person is female, the duration of the trip, time of year and all that were different.  In another situation, a character eats something that I never would, but had heard about from a friend. 

Another thing that I will draw on from people I know is references to pets.  I've never had any (wish I could, but I have allergies, damn...)  So, I may insert my friend's rambunctious puppy or my neighbour's parrot (who sits on her head all the time!).

I think as writers, we sort of observe day-to-day life, and see the story in it, or the appeal of it in creating a character, or a plot line, or a snippet of dialogue.

What do you think?


  1. I agree... when I first start a project the characters in my mind are a certain person, with certain ways of acting, but that’s just so I can have a conversation with them... soon they become their own person and take on their own personalities--but to begin I normally start with what’s familiar to my mind and this seems to work well.

    In the beginning its easy to know what char will do, if it acts like someone you know—or what they would say during a conversation—or what the humor is like—or favorite foods and colors are.

    At least for me it is a seamless way to write… gives me a starting point. The best part is when the character shed this identity and become interactive—then writing become a journey… an experience… an exhilarating wonderful time.

    That my opinion…

  2. Thanks Jeff. I know exactly what you mean about characters becoming interactive; that really is when the writing becomes fun, isn't it?

  3. I agree with most of this post. I think some of my characters must be a conglomeration of everyone I've ever met in my lifetime.
    I honestly don't know what happens, but when I sit at my laptop, they just show up, in full color and take me on their journey. I am just sort of their translator to get their story out onto the page with words. I get to know them over the course of the first draft. The first draft is exhilarating.

    In the revisions stage, this is where I make changes (to fill in the plot holes, do needed research, pretty-up the structure and word choices, etc.). This phase is not so pleasurable for me. This is where the hard work begins, where I have to rip huge chances out, look stuff up (boring!), and get technical. But, I make sure I keep the characters true. I know them well by this stage, and no matter the changes I make, I am careful to keep their integrity.

  4. I know what you mean about the characters taking over! I love letting a character decide where the plot will take him or her!