Basing Characters On Real People

Hello everyone, Flobo here!

If you are like me, once you finish writing a story (or any other kind of work) you’re ready to jump to the next project. I’m sure you have an idea in mind, but let’s say you want to develop a rich character in order to put him/her in unusual situations. This method is A-OK, and actually preferred by some authors. Most times characters are projections of the life experiences of their creator. After all, no one creates in a void.

Sure, James Cameron didn’t know a Space Marine from the future when he created Scully for “Avatar”, but you could argue almost everyone has felt as if they were entering a “new world” when they came across a foreign subculture.

What, your hometown doesn’t have floating vessels in brine?

Other times, authors tend to create characters by grafting them from real life people. This is an awesome tactic, IF DONE RIGHT. You see, there’s nothing wrong with appropriating certain traits from other people, but you don’t want to make “carbon copies” of them. Your boss Mr. Drake is going to be upset if he reads about a jerk boss character named Mr. Snake. People have sued over things like this; it’s actually the reason why movies have that disclaimer that says “Any similarities to anyone living or dead is coincidental.” Yadda Yadda. This also puts you in a corner, artistically. You don’t want to have to stifle the growth of Mr. Snake because you know the real Mr. Drake wouldn’t do that particular plot point you had in mind.

So what’s an author to do?

Well, at the fear of sounding existential, you can be “inspired” by a real person when you are creating your characters. That is, instead of copying actions and sayings, you can appropriate “vibes”.

OK OK, here’s an example of what I mean.

I went to school with a girl (who isn’t really) named Stacy. Now Stacy had a lot of lifestyle traits I didn’t ascribe to. For example she was a church-going vegan, loved to hike and watch nature, and can talk for hours about makeup. Now, there are some authors out there that would make a character similar to Stacy, say it was based on her, and call it a day. That’s fine, but here’s what I did: On paper the things she did would have made she and I incompatible (and I mean this in the most platonic way). It’s not that I didn’t like nature, I just never thought much about it. The thing is, she had such a magnetic personality that I didn’t care about our differences. I wanted to learn more about the things she appreciated because I appreciated her company.

In my book “High Desert Run: A Neo Western”, there were lots of things that inspired that particular tale. The female character of Daisy was based on this girl Stacy. Not in the literal sense, but rather she (Daisy)  lived in a town that the main character, Jethro didn’t particularly care for. Instead of trying his hardest to make a beeline out of town, he instead began to become infatuated with Daisy’s love of community, tomboyish ways, and leadership skills that it made enough room for the Jethro character to grow with her. Daisy, in essence made my hero a better man.

So to recap: We’ve talked about literal representations of people and being inspired by people.  When do I use both tactics?

Well if you are asking me, one dimensional, tertiary, and stock characters can be based off people without so much as changing the formula. Characters like: Presidents, Maids, Security Guards, Henchmen, Taxi Drivers, Store Clerks etc.

Characters that are either the primary, secondary, or characters you wish to develop in their own right will benefit from being “inspired” from  others like: Heroes, Best Friends, Love Interests, Parents, Children, Main Villains.

Either way, here’s hoping you continue to make compelling stories.


2 Replies to “Basing Characters On Real People”

    1. Heyhey!

      Thanks for taking the time out to stop by in my little corner of the web! Here’s hoping your eventual work turns out well..

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