I’ll tell you a little secret. Come closer so I can whisper it in your ear. I write about friends, relatives and my pets and immortalize them in my books. There, I said it. At first I did it because it was my little joke with my family. When I had a minor character, I would make them someone I knew and they came alive in my mind. Often I gave them speaking parts or sometimes they were the voices of annoying relatives on the answering machine of my characters.
The fun part is that for my relatives, I never tell them I’m doing it. They often find out as their reading my latest. I love hearing their reactions.
Any pet mentioned in my books is one of mine or a pet of my family. Since it’s fiction, I can make them well-behaved.
In my first YA, I let my mind wander to find the voice of my main character Brenna Nash. I have twin sisters who inherited the odd toes of my dad’s side of the family. (My mom is quick to point out that all her family has lovely feet, so this trait must’ve come from dad.) Their middle toes jut out and look a bit obscene. My niece inherited her mother’s toes and since I had my young niece in mind—and made her a minor character in my debut YA book IN THE ARMS OF STONE ANGELS—I HAD to write about her “secret” toes.
Here’s the passage:
I sleep with the dead.
I don’t remember the first time I did it and I try not to think about why. It’s just something I do. And my fascination with the dead has become part of me, like the way my middle toes jut out. They make my feet look like they’re shooting the finger twenty-four seven. My ‘screw you’ toes are my best feature, but that doesn’t mean I brag about them. Those babies are kept under wraps—just for my entertainment—the same way I now keep my habit of sleeping in cemeteries a secret from anyone. Not even my mother knows I sneak out at night sometimes to curl up with the headstones … and the stillness. Some things are best left unsaid.
In the arms of stone angels, I’m not afraid.
In one of my Sweet Justice series books (which shall remain nameless since I don’t want to be a spoiler), I wrote two characters and gave them fictitious names, but they were my crazy parents. All their strange idiosyncrasies—my dad’s hoarder tendencies and my mother’s love of ginger snap cookies—became a part of the story line and made me laugh til I cried. When I read the passages to my brother, I didn’t tell him who the characters were supposed to be, but he knew and roared with laughter. Now my parents very proudly tell people, “We’re spies in this book.” Well, thanks mom and dad, for telegraphing a twist in the book. But writing them into my novel was a decision I will never regret.
It’s one thing to “see” and “hear” a fictional character vividly in your head so that they feel alive to you, but it’s quite another sensation to already have that character in your mind from years of knowing them. A word of caution: you can get carried away and let the character take over more of the scene than you intended, simply because you want them to play a bigger part. But written judiciously, you can have fun with it and make a more layered character in a short amount of time because you already know them.
1.) Have you ever used a real person as a character in your books? Who was it? Tell us about how you did it and if they found out, what was their reaction?
2.) Has doing this ever backfired on you?
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