1. JDawg
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    JDawg New Member

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    Basing characters off of real-life people or people you know

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by JDawg, May 31, 2013.

    One aspect of writing fiction I struggle with the most is character development. I struggle with everything from developing good character names to developing the characters whatsoever. The only way I can find around this or to improve in this regard is by basing my characters off of someone real. I've tried doing public/figures or celebrities, but I often find myself writing my characters based off people I know. Is there anything wrong with this? Any disadvantages? Does anybody else do this also?
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Nothing wrong with it at all, other than the likelihood of being sued for defamation or invasion of privacy.
     
  3. AnnaU93
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    AnnaU93 New Member

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    I feel like any good character will only come through in a story if a person can someone relate to them.
    Therefore I really see no problem in using real life characters and maybe taking several aspects of all of their personality and molding it into one likeable or un-likeable character. In the short stories that I have written in the past I've had the biggest writers block until I thought of a few actors in films to help me get the perfect image that I would use in the story.
    You shouldn't feel guilty for using this method because we all truly do it (even if some don't admit to it haha).
     
  4. huntsman40
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    huntsman40 Active Member

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    I personally don't like to use real life people for what I write, as the problem with this is that it dates your work. If you write something with a fictitious president then your work needs not be set in any particular time. Of course you can do so, but I prefer to take the fiction route, though maybe base some aspects of personality of the character on someone I know perhaps. Don't get too hung up creating characters in every detail either, as you'll find they grow, change and take on a life of their own as you write about them and get to know them. Often writing a character is not much different than getting to know a new person in the real world.

    Someone mentioned the legal aspect. There is some legal president for this I believe – depending on your country of course – for writing about real people. If you wrote a factual account about someone real and wrote something that was wrong then you may open yourself up to possible libel charges. In a fictional book though you are generally safer I think. I know there were cases against comedians in my country at one point for ridiculing politicians that failed, and also there have been cases against people that write erotic fiction stories with celebs that have also been thrown out.

    That is from memory though, and I’m certainly not a lawyer and so I’d certainly check your own country’s laws before writing something using real people as your characters, and certainly if they are famous and your wring makes them look foolish.
     
  5. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    My characters are combinations of people I have observed, people I know and strangers alike. Just don't use names and identity of real person. The other day my father was doing something that made me think of a character and I may also pick up some traits from him when I create the character.
     
  6. Caesari
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    Caesari Member

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    That is perfectly okay. We all do it, subliminally or otherwise.
     
  7. Aprella
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    Aprella Senior Member

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    The story I am no writing started out as a fanfiction and three of the main characters were (based on) existing people. Since neither my co-writer or I actually know those people personally, they will not be exactly the same and during the story they have evolved as original characters. In the rewrite of this story, the characters won't be based on those people any more (well there might be some similarities like hair colour or profession, but there it ends).

    Beside that I have not yet based any character consciously on a real existing person, but if you're character is human enough, there will be people that recognises things in them from themselves or people they know. So starting off with something real is perfectly fine!
     
  8. Alesia
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    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

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    I've done it alot. One of my characters was based off my own self. Several more were based off ex-relationships. One character that was beaten and abused as a child, her father was based off my own father.
     
  9. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    If writers didn't base their characters on real people, we'd have nothing but cardboard cutouts in novels. Just be sure the characters are based on the real people and you're not writing a pseudo-biography of them.
     
  10. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Oh, I think that's a GREAT way to write, if you're stuck for a character. Have fun with it, though. Give a female character the personality of some male person you know. Vice-versa. That way, nobody's going to recognise anybody in your story, and it also helps break any gender preconceptions or stereotypes your character may have had otherwise. But even if you don't swap, do use people you know, or have met.

    I would not really use celebrites and/or famous people, though—at least not often. Reason? You don't really know them, only what the media feeds you about them. If a character is to be well-rounded, they need to be real.
     
  11. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    every writer does that to some extent... just be sure you don't make any of your real life models so recognizable that they can sue you... best way to avoid that is to combine traits of more than one real person in your fictional ones... and don't place them in situations that mirror real life events your models were involved in...
     
  12. GoldenGhost
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    GoldenGhost Contributing Member

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    Only recently have I decided to look for real life people to serve as platforms for characters, and after writing two stories that has one containing a good friend of mine, and another story that came out of the mouth of my co-worker, because it actually happened to him, I've found two things that I've tried to really focus on. One is exaggeration, which happens through the fabrication of events, language, and the maximizing character traits, and two, which is the opposite of the latter thought, and that is the taking away of every trait, except for the predominant one that is most important to "show," thus making it Universal and a sort of "this character could be anyone," situation
     
  13. timwilson
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    timwilson New Member

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    I think anything that makes your characters feel like real people will work. Nobody wants Theseus and the Minotaur any more. We want living, breathing people, not the cut-out stereotypes from fairy tales. If this makes your characters breathe, keep it up.

    However, I would caution that it's not to paint these characters as either a saint (if they are a friend) or a demon (if they aren't). If you're going to do it, give them something else. "They're like my wife Nat if she hadn't had a father. They're like my mate Mike if he were a soldier". Modify them in some way.

    I've got to say my favourite method is to draw on my own personal experiences. That makes the character feel more real because the only person you can really relate to is you. I used to always have it where one character in the story was me. And I soon realised this made me turn that character in some kind of a saint. Instead, I imagine how I would act in any role. I try and draw links between my emotions and theirs. For example, I've never been through a divorce but I have been through a break up. Therefore, I can sympathise with that character and think "What would I do?", even if they are the villain.

    The advantage of your method is that they don't all start to respond the same way. Perhaps going between the two would help
     
  14. pafjlh
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    pafjlh New Member

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    I think you could have character inspiration from anywhere. It can definitely come from people you know in day to day life. Public figures that you see on TV, such as politicians, actors or singers. But when creating the characters you just put your own spin on the character. In other words you get to know you character, as the individual they are. In some cases they can have some of your own traits. After all as the writer it would stand to reason that our characters would have some of our traits and values. I know that I have created characters from people I know, or from public figures. But most of the time its just to get an image of that character, this helps me to write, to know what this character would look like at least in my head.
     
  15. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    There is a world of difference between compositing characters off of a variety of real life people and basing A character on A real life person.

    Of COURSE characters will have foundations in people you have met. How could they not?
     
  16. kreilly2462
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    kreilly2462 New Member

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    Many people use this method, including myself. I feel when i can really connect to the character, my ideas flow better and the story is overall better.
     
  17. DopePoet
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    DopePoet New Member

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    Individual characters that are carbon copies (at least of personality) of people you know? Not "wrong" but might not make for a too exciting story! I guess when you incorporate setting & plot that might change. lmao

    How possible is this? Possible but not likely right?
     
  18. Daniel
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    Daniel I'm sure you've heard the rumors. Founder Staff Contributor

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    As someone mentioned above, most writers might do this to some extent. This might be deliberate, or it might mean incorporating certain traits of people you know into new characters in radically different settings (making them a different person essentially), or for some skilled writers it might mean creating truly unique characters without basing it off anyone - though they might be doing so subconsciously. By combining different personality traits based off real people you can basically "build" a new character. It's best when it's not so rigid and structured, but it's a hell of a lot better than basing a character completely off of someone. I think this might not be exactly what you meant, but how do we know when characters are "real" or "authentic?" Our perception is based on people we know, our nature as human being, and our experiences, relationships, and interactions with people. If you follow this logic, every character written is, in some small way, based upon real people.

    I think I overshot your point, but I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with basing your characters off of people; however, I do think that you shouldn't try to structure your character around specific people. If writing characters is difficult without basing it off real people, write more. I suspect the more you write the better you'll get. Eventually you might not have to consciously think about needing to base your character off anyone in particular, and with time it'll come more naturally. You could try to "imagine" the person you want to base your character on (thus tricking yourself). Eventually you may still base your characters of people, but your story's characters will be based on different parts of different people. Hopefully with time and practice you can do this without giving it conscious thought.
     
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  19. TerraIncognita
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    TerraIncognita Aggressively Nice Person Contributor

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    For legal purposes it's not the best idea. :/

    Every character will obviously share characteristics with one or another person you know or have encountered. That only makes sense seeing as characters are supposed to be as close to real people as possible. There was a similar thread about this in regard to basing an antagonist off of someone the op didn't like. I'd say to steer clear of that sort of thing if that is the case here. Pick some characteristics and build on that. The goal when you make a character should be for them to be a unique individual.
     
  20. lilrotk
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    lilrotk New Member

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    For me, I call it "casting." It's worked tremendously for some of my characters. My stories play like films. Some times it works, and some other times it doesn't because their isn't enough to that character.
     

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