November 17, 2010

Basing fictional characters on real people

One of the greatest things about writing is the creation of fictional characters. It's such a freeing thing to be able to create anyone I want. It's almost dizzying to have such power. Which makes a certain type of question from readers rather strange.

Now and then a reader will ask, "Is that me in your book?" Uh, no. I don't (usually) draw characters who "are" a particular person. That sounds limiting and oppressive, actually. We can make anyone up so why rely on a real-life model for a character?

On the other hand . . . I did it once. There is a character in my horror novel, Xmas Carol, that is highly reminiscent of one of my best friends. I didn't do it because I was fresh out of character ideas that day. It was a more ambitious thing.

I wanted to build a character that was like my friend in many ways.  My goal was to take that character on a fictional journey that represents my hopes for my real-life friend. In essence, it was a joyful tribute to my friend's worth. And that was the only time I did this.

One reader commented about a character, "I knew who he was right away! It's you!"  Uh, no. It wasn't. I don't appear in any of my books. (The odd thing is that this reader picked a character who meant very little to me as I painted him onto my screen. He was so minor, an afterthought, really.) 

Are there aspects of me in my characters? Certainly. I'm sure all writers inject their personal traits into characters. We know ourselves so well and we use this knowledge when we write. But there is no character in my books who is me, nor do I think I'll create such a character in the future.

Tell me, do you use real-life models in your fiction?

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