Reader Friday: Real People

“It’s not a good idea to put your wife into a novel…not your latest wife, anyway.” – Norman Mailer

Have you ever used a real person as the basis for a character in one of your novels? Been tempted to? What’s the backstory on that?

32 thoughts on “Reader Friday: Real People

  1. Oh yeah. I put my younger son in my story “Crossed Double” and my friend N. H. in “Starlets and Spaceboys.” My son and I were having breakfast at a local restaurant (now sadly out of business) and he was telling me about a problem he was having and the story spun out of that. N. is an extremely charming guy who is also one of the most competently dangerous people on the planet and I needed a scary guy for the story. Easy peasy. Well, not really. But there you go.

  2. My first story, written back in high school. It featured me and my friends on an adventure–cause what high schooler wouldn’t want that? Each draft, I would try to make my characters more and more realistic, more like us, and it failed miserably. I learned never to do it again.

    On another note, I also tried to base a character off another character, and I ran into a wall because there was this one character trait, invisible to me, that wouldn’t allow my character to grow. It took me a solid six years to figure out what the problem was, and now I’m working on it and it’s going so well.

    Moral of the story, if you want to use someone, pick one or two traits and let the rest go.

  3. Yes. In my Mad River Magic (middle-grade fantasy) series, my seven grandchildren are the basis for the seven cousins who are the secondary characters and sidekicks to the MC. (A new cousin is on the way, so future books will have eight or nine cousins. Whew!)

  4. Yes, I’ve used my husband as the basis for a series character. The character morphed and evolved as I was writing, but he still likes to tell people he’s Niko. I also murdered a few friends, after they signed releases, of course. πŸ˜‰ I’ve even used my late dogs by imagining what they’d be like as humans.

  5. The names have been changed to protect the innocent. I killed off a hatchet man they hired to pare down the workforce at the day job. I refer to that period as the reign of terror. He got a little too zealous with his task.

  6. Yes. My antagonist for my current novel is based on an employee I had when I worked in the Middle East. Nice guy but strange as hell.

  7. Not directly but of course assimilate bits and pieces from things I’ve observed in others’ lives and my own. And sometimes I have a favorite actor in mind as I visualize a character, whether the reader visualizes them that way or not.

  8. No real people in my stories. Of course, as they say, every writer’s first story is autobiographical. I don’t think we stop there; I think we just get better at disguising ourselves from ourselves, as we unconsciously put traits and elements from our own lives into new characters. But generally I think it’s more fun to make characters up from scratch, at least on the conscious level.

  9. I just realized there is one exception. I based a character in a screenplay on a woman I know. I didn’t tell her, of course. After I’d already finished the script, she came to me and asked me to put her into one of my stories. I was very surprised by this request, but admitted I’d already done so. I may show her the script sometime.

  10. My WIP involves the misadventures of two very colorful young girls who think a murder has been committed and decide to investigate. One of the girls is based on my cousin and best childhood friend, Joan. Although the personality of the character is different in many ways from my cousin, anyone who knew us as children will recognize her. (They might recognize the second young girl as well.)

  11. I’ve only done it once. My first novel has never been published, or I wouldn’t say this although the b*stard is long dead. One of my English professors repelled me, emotionally and intellectually. And I tend to hold a grudge so why not use him as a bad guy, then kill him.

    His tennis-shoed feet on his desk, Dr. Cleanth Fitzhugh sat in his campus office, reading an annotated edition of THE GOLDEN BOUGH. A tall, thin, graying man in his mid-fifties with the bones and carriage of the perfect aristocrat, he appeared formal and unapproachable even in faded jeans and casual shirt.

    And at the end of the scene:

    “Do be careful handling the letters. They are quite old and, although written on durable paper, might disintegrate if handled carelessly.”

    “Certainly, sir.” Standing, Penn smiled politely. He acted as if she were a four year old. Maybe she should finger paint over them.

    He rose and bowed her stiffly out then picked up a neat pile of books from his desk. With a movement of his head to signify he’d forgotten her completely, he strode with an impossibly erect elegance down the hall toward the classrooms.

  12. I have been blessed to appear in two books and some of my stories appear in a few others. Elaine Viets created a character very much like me and named it for a co-worker who was deployed to Iraq at the time. In another book a character very much like me appears. He is named for my great grandfather who I am named for.

    Along the way I did learn not to piss off mystery writers. They will kill you on paper.

  13. A sweet, talented niece asked if she could be a character in one of my books. I’m weaving her personality and skills into an essential character in one of my WIPs.

    A so-far unpublished short story allowed me to kill off someone who “done me wrong” many years ago.

  14. My grandmother’s aunt lived to be a supercentenarian (110+ years old). Her son helped her live in her own home until he was in his 80s (she was over a hundred.) She was a lovely, kind woman who helped raise my grandmother when her step-father didn’t want her. By all accounts, her relationship with her son was loving and a joy.

    Of course, my writerly imagination asked, “What if?” What if their relationship wasn’t so loving? What if the supercentinarian mother was abusive? What would it be like to live into your 80s, with such a mother still alive? This “what if” relationship became the basis for a mystery I’m working on.

    Of course, I’m worried certain relatives may take offense, because Auntie *was* a lovely person and the woman in my story is not. I mean, I know the story has nothing to do with her, but there aren’t many people who get that old…

  15. Yes, I’ve used real people, loosely, as models for different characters. My favorite is my husband for a strong male MC within law enforcement or the military. πŸ˜€ And yes, he knows it. πŸ˜‰

  16. Aren’t all our characters based on someone we know? Sure, we try and disguise them a bit, but hey, they’re where we get the inspiration from? No?

  17. One WIP is based upon a play I wrote & directed. The actors were all friends & relatives of mine. So…all these real folks were in my mind as I wrote.

    My other WIP has a main character who’s an awful lot like a composite of my sis & I.

  18. Met Norman Mailer once, in Provincetown, while parking a car on Brewster Street. He looked dazed and confused. He paced the sidewalk in an agitated manner.
    I got out the car and asked him, ‘Do you need help?’
    He threw an arm one way and brushed me away with the other.
    I let him get on with it.
    I returned to my car and watched him. He seemed β€” how can I say? β€” I didn’t know his personal circumstances β€” to be suffering from some kind of dementia.
    Two days later I met one of his ex-wives at a party; his third, I think. We got along famously β€” swapping anecdotes about our travels, and Spain, and life in general.
    ‘Saw him the other day,’ I said. ‘On Brewster Street. He seemed to be looking for a parked car.’
    She laughed. ‘That’s Norm,’ she said. ‘How do you expect a man who can’t remember where he parked his seed to remember where he parked his sedan?’

    — 167 words —
    — END —

  19. Apologies, Should have added: He was wearing a khaki colored raincoat β€” in August.

  20. Not to rain on the parade but the advice I’ve gotten is to tread very lightly in this area. I’ve been told traditional publishers will question authors on this point very specifically and if the author has ventured into this area, their prospects of getting their work published drops considerably. If carefully handled, it can be done of course, but it creates additional hurdles that have to be cleared.

    However, if one self publishes they can bypass this gate but the risk of legal issues, though ignored, remains. If you get entangled with these problems, you’ll probably end up like me after battles with the IRS. Winning felt an awful lot like losing because it consumed a huge block of my time and I had nothing to show for it. I would rather be engaged in something enjoyable or productive, like writing.

    I say this because there are relative newbies reading this blog and I wouldn’t want them to experience more difficulties than climbing the mountain they’ve already got before them.

    I try to follow the advice of Amy Tan, “remember your past experiences and extract the feelings those events created. Pain, anger, hate, love, happiness, etc. Imbue the scene you are writing with those powerful elements.”

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