1. henmatth
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    henmatth Member

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    Drawing Characters From Real People

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by henmatth, Feb 6, 2013.

    Do you tend to base your characters' personalites on real people? Or do you simply imagine them in your head and they develope in your mind?

    I would have to say that most of my characters are based on real people, but it's a habit I'm trying to steer clear of. I feel sometimes it almost dictates where the story goes when I base a character too closely to someone I know in real life. So now I'm trying to focus more so on creating personalities in my head and allowing my characters to become a person of their own. I think it allows for more freedom in my writing, because I'm not confined to a pre-made personality- if that makes sense?
     
  2. AchiraC
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    AchiraC Member

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    That makes perfect sense! I take special care to avoid basing characters on actual people. I used to base them on people I knew, but like you said, it restricted what I could do with them. It also made me feel slightly uncomfortable when I had to put the characters in unpleasant situations. Over time, those 'real life' characters were pushed to the fringes of my story, because I couldn't work with them. I sent them all to the headsman and started over with newly created, completely fictional characters that I can torture to my heart's delight!
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Everyone draws characters from real people. What else would you draw them from.

    My characters are all composites. I never model a character directly from a single person. My composites are constructed from people I have known, and strangers I have observed. I also take elements of myself, but I try to limit the "me" piece in most of my characters.
     
  4. Rebel Yellow
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    Rebel Yellow Active Member

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    One thing to keep in mind is that fiction is larger than life. With that mindset, while you will base your characters on real people, you should also know that some traits need to be exaggerated.
     
  5. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    Real people, I don't see why you would want 'to steer clear of' doing that.
     
  6. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    My characters tend to draw themselves. Real people influence them quite a bit but no one person tends to be the driving force behind their personality. Maybe their appearances are based more on one person, but beyond that, they are parts of a lot of people, filtered through my perceptions. ;)
     
  7. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have found that my characters tend to be more inspired by *situations* that people I know may find themselves in, but their personalities are their own. However, usually my characters have bits and pieces of the personalities of several people I have known.

    Also, what Show said is absolutely correct -- the characters are based on people based on your perception of them, which might be very far off from how they view themselves.
     
  8. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    All of my characters (except for a Guardian Angel) are drawn from real people.
     
  9. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Mine are based on the composites, as Cogito and others mentioned. It's not just people one knows, of course - it's observing how people in general behave in various situations. I might loosely base a character on someone I know, to use the essence of the person, but over the life of the story, the character would develop on their own.
     
  10. Xatron
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    Xatron Contributing Member

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    I believe that any character fictitious or real is made up of other character's traits. Of course you base your characters on real people because short of inventing a new character trait(which is impossible, you should try it) in any case you saw that trait on someone else, hence basing your character partly on him/her.
     
  11. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    Developing a trait is a very rewarding pursuit.

    One of my characters eats a certain food in a certain way, drips it all over her chin, the front of her jerkin and ultimately onto everything she touches, including weapons. Originally, it was just a quirk, but I wound up weaving it into a plot point. People who have read my story all say it's the funniest part of the tale.
     
  12. henmatth
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    henmatth Member

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    The Tourist: That trait does seem quite entertaining! In fact it made me laugh a little as I read it :)

    AchiraC: I understand completely! I don't necessarily torture my characters (lol), but I do have them in some interesting situations. And I don't like putting a 'real life based' characted in an awkward moment. A quirk I guess.

    chicagoliz: The fact you use situations rather than full-blown personalities is a great idea! I bet it's really useful in the fact that you can derive scenes from people, but not necessarily characters. In a way I think it's one of the perfect ways a writer could find inspiration. You're not confined to a personality, but you can experiment with events. Sounds exciting! I too think that many of my characters were based on multiple people- wrapped into one.
     
  13. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    Well, I'm not going to give away the candy store. That's just the overview. The entire experience concerns just what she's eating, what she thinks it is, where she thinks it comes from, and her definition of 'spoiled.'

    After all, anybody can be a sloppy eater--my cousin Bobbie, for one. This character pushes the trait into newfound territory.
     
  14. mg357
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    mg357 Active Member

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    I keep a list of male and female celebrities handy and i use different characteristics of these celebrities for the characters in my writing projects.
     
  15. henmatth
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    henmatth Member

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    I like that idea! Or even take characters they play (in shows, movies, musicals, etc) and sort of draw inspiration from that.
     
  16. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's not even so much scenes, necessarily (although sometimes that can happen, too) but more life situations. A guy who always wanted to be a lawyer and went to law school, but couldn't find a job. Or a woman who married her husband quickly, but isn't really in love with him, and she's now in a place where she allows him to make all the decisions. Or a man in a loveless marriage trying to decide whether to stay for the sake of the kids. Or a man who married a woman because they had been dating since high school, but really was in love with someone else. Exploring a character in a situation like one of those is an interesting exercise. Often the character has a few traits in common with the real-life inspiration, (which makes sense, given that they've gotten themselves into the situations in the first place), but how the character reacts to their situation may be completely different from what the real person did. As the character develops, I often find that they have some personality traits of other people I know, who have nothing to do with the situation that inspired the character. And I give the character a different job, and a different family background.

    In my main story, the MC has been very good friends with another character since childhood. They went to different colleges, but are now in their forties, yet have remained close. The "structure" of their relationship and other friends they have is inspired by my husband and his group of childhood friends. The overall feeling of the friendship is similar to the real-life relationship I have observed with my husband. But none of the characters are like any of my husband's friends. They're some mixtures of other people I have known, in college and in my work life. But they also have some unique personality traits in there, too, which as far as I know, aren't inspired by any particular people I know -- they've just emerged as I've developed the characters.

    As far as scenes, my husband did tell me about a conversation that took place while he was golfing with some of his friends from business school. I put a similar conversation into my book. He's had a good chuckle at some of the anecdotes he's told me over the years that have showed up in my stories. And of course, I've had some conversations with friends that have made it into my story, too. Someone who read my story made a comment about an incident I had put into the story, and he was quite amused when I told him that the incident had really happened. The character that it happened to was a guy whose "position" (to my MC) was based on one of my husband's friends, but the character is nothing like the real life person. He's vaguely similar to three or four other people I have known. His professional background is a little bit like mine, and a little bit like several different people I have known. And the anecdotal incident happened to yet another a guy who is nothing like this character. A separate anecdotal incident is based on a conversation my husband told me about with a different friend of his. So, this character has several scenes inspired by real-life incidents (none of which involve the same people) and other elements of him are similar to real-life people, but there is no one real-life person that anyone could say inspired my character on his own.
     
  17. AchiraC
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    AchiraC Member

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    Well, torture might be a little over-dramatic. I have the same quirk you mentioned: I'm thoroughly uncomfortable putting 'real life based' characters in anything but a very simple and tame scene. That's just no fun when the end of your story is supposed to be an all out war!
     
  18. tinylittlepixie
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    tinylittlepixie Member

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    I think it's more about drawing traits and characteristics from real people, otherwise any characters aren't going to be convincing or have any depth. Sticking too closely to the idea of "this is based on real person X and in this situation he would do Y" could be restricting in the narrative though.
     
  19. Rebel Yellow
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    Rebel Yellow Active Member

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    I think Pixie has pinpointed it.
     
  20. haribol
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    haribol Member

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    In fact literature is the replica of what happens in society or nature. Things happen always in society and they cannot draw attention since they are things of everyday humdrum and they cannot fascinate the reader if the author describes the social event as it is. He fictionalizes the event, describe the event using the best word he knows and structures them into beautiful sentences and finally into a telling tale.

    On the question whether literature draws real character or whether it should draw real people to put it differently, I would say literature of course must draw from the happenings of society and of course the people in society can be good characters but the
    writers must be skillful to present the event differently and indeed he must be able to synthesize it,using different techniques and
    methods. The writer might have a wealth of experience and a vast repertoire of knowledge he might have acquired from different
    domains and he must synthesize them in a manner his fictionalized characters may seem both real and imaginary at the same time.
     
  21. Saddun
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    Saddun New Member

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    When I started writing, I actually took my friends or people, which I knew and tried to copy them into my story. It failed horribly, because some of them, ended up hating me for it, or the characters just weren't good enough, because I didn't knew them too good.

    I guess you need to find a solid middle point or something like that. People can be inspirations. If it's an opinion, an outfit or just how they behave. It can be a starting point.
     
  22. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    One of my characters is based on an old girl friend, but also Susan Anton and Juliet Prowse.

    But when she read the rough drafts, the girl friend started to refer to herself as "RQ," the initials of the character. Even signed some of her notes to me that way.

    What I've found about this stuff is that egos get stroked--that is until the fictitious character in your book strangles someone with piano wire. Now if the victim "deserved to die," then the friend is gladdened. If the character sets fire to a pack of innocent bunnies then you get complaints.

    But that's the gig. If the friend is the best example of the character, you use it and let the chips fall. If the friend is important to you, you alter the story and live with that, too.
     
  23. DayOwl
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    DayOwl New Member

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    Being new to the craft, I haven't really developed a solid method for creating my characters. I find that I rely more heavily on real people for physical traits, while my story dictates who they need to be in thought and action. I feel I may run the danger of starting out with less believable characters in this way, but as of now I'm trying to trust my instincts and pick up knowledge as I go. I suppose the simple answer would be that I create them in my mind.
     
  24. creative_nothings
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    creative_nothings Member

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    Obviously, the characters we create are going to come from whats in our mind, our life experiences, interactions with other people, books we've read, etc... I think basing a character around a specific person will ultimately mean suicide for that character (unless of course you are writing a story specifically about someone). Pulling inspiration from all areas of life is what will make a truly unique character IMO.
     
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