I tend to start every story using a real people for my characters. Sometimes even their names. But by the end of the first draft, they're so different from how I began that I'll revise accordingly. In fact, as soon as I realize that a character isn't right for a story, I'll change him or her right on the spot -- age, hair color, social standing, psychology, physiology, whatever.
Hemingway was known to base his characters off real people -- even used their names in their novels -- and his stories off events that really happened to him and these people. But caution is necessary here: There's no way to compare a Hemingway story with what really happened. And as far as I know, he was never sued.
It never seemed to work out for me. I use incidents of real life all the time...but using a real person usually doesn't work for me.
Also I've occasionally take the character of, and occasionally the name, too, of somebody I'm mad at, and give it to a nasty and rotten character I'm working on. Cathartic it may be (for instance, a whole series of villains have borne the name of a grade-school tormentor), and possibly displaying my ability to hold a grudge for a lifetime---but good writing? I'm not sure...perhaps using my anger gives my character an edge, perhaps not.
I've had better luck in a half-way step---seeing an actor play a character on TV or in a movie (usually seen on TV), then taking the physical and vocal characteristics of that character / actor in mind as I write about my own character. I'll discard the character's background and all that, and invent my own. I doubt if anybody could tell where it came from (probably I'm not that skilled at it).
(A sidebar to the above, thanks to my sojourn through Internet Fan Fiction, the characters I was writing about echo through my subsequent work. One of my "on file" stories, waiting for revisions, actually started out as an Internet Fan Fic...and, when I get right down to it, a lot of the characters in my current novel are influenced by those same characters. I think it will be some time before I thoroughly flush it out of my system...which is hard to do when I still like the Series in question, still occasionally read a fanfic (mine own or others), and still occasionally ponder writing another one.)
I would never base a character on someone I know, or even someone I didn't know - I don't even use the names of poeple I know, family members, friends etc, if I can avoid it. Using character traits perhaps of peopele you encounter though is ok, but I'd lke to think that my characters are unique and original, though that 's more difficult if the character is evil.
Posts: 626 | Registered: Mar 2007
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In the end, everything we write is taken from our experiences, to some extent. I take bits and pieces, but not whole people. Even if a character started out exactly like so-and-so, by the end they've evolved enough that they are only vague shadows--and I don't start people out exactly like so-and-so.
Posts: 696 | Registered: Sep 2005
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Most of my characters are composites of various people and archetypes, and don't usually draw any "oh, so Character A is a bit like so-and-so", with the exception of my most-main MC (yes I know that's poor grammar.) This mmMC resembles me physically, and for a reason- I am rather petite, and often get underestimated because of it. For the purposes of a certain story, I wanted her to also be petite and thus be underestimated.
But that wasn't the character I meant to post about. There's another who has been but a role and not a person ever since I came up with him, years ago. He's always been rather lifeless on the page, a mere observer, with only shadows of self-impulse. I tried all the tricks in my arsenal but I couldn't quite figure out what makes him tick.
I was talking about this with a poet friend of mine. Some time later, he described something he'd gone through - he'd done everything he could to help a self-destructive friend of his, but had failed. Something about the way he talked about this really struck a chord with me -- and reminded me of that character I'd been having trouble with. That was exactly how he'd react to the events of the story. With my friend's permission, I'm basing aspects of the character off of my friend's experience, and as a result, my character is now a person to me, and not a name on a page. My friend's aware that this is just a character, and is not meant to be him literally or to represent him in any way. They just share some similarities in personality.
1. Yes. There are a few people in particular who inspire characters for me. I personally see no problem about being inspired by real people. I'm not copying the persons exactly, but there are certain things about them that warrant some exploration. I also doubt that there was ever a character made in the world that was not at some level inspired by another real person. (Directly or indirectly; consciously or subconsciously; specific traits or general traits.)
2. It might depend on the individual - like anyone else. First I would distinguish between being _inspired_ by a person and _basing_ the character on a person. I would probably pedantically explain that the formation of a character isn't that simple, and that there are many things that go into it, including the occasional inspiration from people -- often from several people for one character.
If I didn't want to tell the person, I would simply say that I was not going to ruin the mystery of a character by discussing all of the specific things that went into creating him, but I would surely deny that any of my fictional characters represented anyone in particular.
3. Most likely not. But not for any reason of principle. I simply would want to keep the mystery of the character to myself.
4. I am related to a good friend of an author who has several published books, including one that was made into a very successful movie with some big-name stars. (I'm not saying the author's name because I'm not sure how public this information was intended to be.) According to my relation, this author uses exact names of people he has met. I don't get the impression that there is really very much anyone can do about that, but I'm no lawyer.
Most of my characters were not consciously inspired by any person alive or dead. While writing this, I have considered the few that were, and it occurred to me that the character was not actually inspired by the person.
In the case of one character (who is only part of a story idea at this point), I made up the character, and found that he was very similar to someone I know. I drew inspiration from the person I know while developing the character, but not in the invention of him.
In the case of another (who is the main character of my biggest work) the inspiration came very late in the development of the character. A lot of groundwork had already been done, but I often think of how this real-life person might act in the given situations.
Again, I see nothing wrong with this -- Ethically or artistically.
Characters in my writing tend to have similar traits to people I know, but they never match exactly. Sometimes it is fun to work with people's personalities, but people don't always like people to write about them. My inspiration is often from the actions of others around me. I tend to modify actual experiences to fit the plot sometimes. Reality is far stranger than anything I could possibly come up with in my own head.
Posts: 99 | Registered: Jan 2007
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Thanks, everyone, for the deep and insightful answers!
Robert and DeepDreamer, I can identify most with your responses and mfreivald, yours makes the most sense.
This has happened for me. Even in reading books, I have to be able to picture the characters exactly, and generally assign actors the roles. In writing, well, I have to picture the characters even better and am extremely exacting.
The main character (of the novel I finally told myself to settle down and write--after bouncing from one to another for years) is--MOST DEFINITELY--I will follow your wise example, and use the word inspired--by an actor and his various roles. Based? Well, sometimes aspects of a person's real life, not just their roles, can help form a character, too. I would hate for anyone to think I was seriously ripping off either their life or their work, if they found out about it. I hope they wouldn't think that.
Now, I have found more than once that I have a certain character in mind, say with a name and general age and description. Then I happen to be watching something (yes, almost always on TV, doesn't seem to work well with movies or maybe I just don't see enough) and a certain actor inspires me--all of a sudden I am able to write that character perfectly! I just had this happen with something I'd wanted to write for at least two years!
Now, I don't know that this is even a problem...just an interesting situation. These actors have inspired me so extremely much that if I thought they'd really get a kick out of their effect on me, I would at some point like to tell them. OF COURSE, I would not mention any such thing early on in any work for obvious reasons: 1. The person might respond in a negative way, I'd get discouraged, not complete the work, crawl under a rock, and die. 2. The person might respond in a positive way and then be disappointed I don't complete the work faster than I am able to do. I can't stand disappointing anyone. BUT, if the work were WELL ALONG, and I were happy with it...the temptation would be there. Really, if someone inspired me SO MUCH that they deserve at least partial credit for the work, and I thought it would benefit them to know what a positive effect their work had on mine, I would let them know. But if they were going to get all squirrelly and think I'm stuck on them, or indifferent like "so what, I don't care if I inspire you," I'd rather not say anything. (Don't worry, the problem will not arise soon as we're talking long novels here.)