1. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    When Something Terrible Happens to Your Character's Original

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Catrin Lewis, Jul 1, 2014.

    I think we've all done it to some degree or another, based a major character on somebody we know or once knew. Or we've taken bits and pieces and aspects of people we know and combined them to come up with our characters. If things are going well, the characters we write will become their own people and declare their independence from their originals.

    Right? Even so, there's still the awareness that So-and-So in real life was the model or inspiration for this or that character in the book we're working on.

    That said, have you ever found out, in the middle of writing your novel, that something awful had happened to a person one of your main characters is based on? Did that affect how you saw your character? Or how you felt about writing him or her?

    I'm asking because my male MC in my work in revision is based on a guy I used to be pretty close to back in the '80s. That was long ago and far away in another universe (to echo a phrase), and besides, my character stopped being him ages ago. Still, I was devastated to find out two weeks ago, quite by accident, that my character's real life original died back in 2012.

    It's hit me harder than I would have expected and for awhile here I haven't been able to write much. It's almost as if I'd envisioned my character as living on forever young and strong in the world I created for him, but now I'm having to deal with the unwelcome fact of his "mortality." His original has died, and someday he must, too. Then there's the intrusion of real life. I find myself wondering, Is it frivolous of me to be writing this character with the actual man he's based on is gone?

    Yeah, I know that's a silly way to feel, but there it is. Anything similar happen to any of you? Or am I just being a sentimental idiot?
     
    Last edited: Jul 1, 2014
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  2. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    Wow... that's some powerful stuff. I'm sorry to hear about your friend. Truly, I am. I hope you can pull it together soon and finish the story. I can't imagine that, really. I've yet to write a character, based on a person who ends up in misfortune after I create my character... It sounds really impacting, bringing to light an interesting topic: character mortality...
     
  3. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I don't generally write characters based on people I know, but there was one time I did. I based a character on a boy I knew in high school who later went on to become a pharmacist. I wrote a story based on what he was as a high school kid, and I never thought it was a big deal.

    I found out recently that he'd been convicted of a crime, and had had his pharmacist's licence taken away. I don't know what he's doing now. I'd always thought of him as a straight shooter, an upstanding, courageous person, and that part of his personality seems to have disappeared.

    Weird. People change, and they aren't who you thought they were when you met them. It's not your fault. You can still base your character on the best of him, can't you?
     
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  4. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    But you see, that's the coolest thing. He does live on, because you've made a story for him, and captured him in the prime of his life. Because you didn't know he had died when you were writing him, your portrayal is not tinged with awareness of his mortality either, at least not yet.

    I hope you still see what you wrote as 'true,' and don't regret having written—or not written—any of him the way you did. As you say, your character has moved on, so hopefully when you resume writing, you can see the character for what he is now, and not reference back to your old friend. But your old friend got it started, and you've made him immortal. What a powerful gift writers have!
     
    Last edited: Jul 1, 2014
  5. Amanda_Geisler
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    Amanda_Geisler Contributing Member Reviewer

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    I can actually see this in my novel. My MC's best friend, Agua, is actually loosely based on @Annalise_Azevedo who is my best friend. In my books Agua is a pack confidante and a trusted friend and in real life Annalise is my closest and oldest friend and she is the only one I fully trust with my entire novel, she is the only one with a copy of it, my parents have never seen my writing. A lot of the relationship between Rya and Agua is what I see between Annalise and myself, a friendship that can get tough and involves a lot of teasing and competition, but we are always there for each other if we need something.

    I agree with @jannert your character is the still living representation of your friend, so give him a life that your friend could have been proud of.

    Amanda
     
  6. Annalise_Azevedo
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    Annalise_Azevedo Member

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    Well I haven't completely based any characters on people I know. While there are some perks and traits from some, the closest I got is a tribute to a friend. While his personality and character is rather different, the name is remarkable similar and the friendship between the protagonist takes my mind back to the good old days.

    Also @Amanda_Geisler you make me sound so old!
     
  7. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thanks, everyone. Here's what's hardest for me, besides not knowing all that time and not having been able to do anything to help: With both the real man and the imaginary character I've kept the physical appearance and the utter dedication to doing great architecture and the talent to do it. (My character is a much better self-marketer, however: the RL guy had some bizarre hangup about that, which is one thing on which I disagreed with him severely.

    So it's been particularly hard to know that he died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS, bulbar palsy (in one form of it), or, here in the States, Lou Gehrig's disease. As you may know, that's an insidious degenerative disease that progressively traps the fully-conscious, mentally-aware victim in his or her paralysed body, until at last the ability to breathe shuts down and you're gone. The RL guy never got into computer-aided design much, and it hurts imagining him for the last year or two of his life not being able to sketch or draft or paint. He never married or had kids: his art was everything to him, and it bothers me that his online obituary has four guestbook entries, period. Just isn't right, when you consider all the lives his work touched, back in my hometown at least.

    Then, too, it doesn't help that my only brother also died of ALS less than three months before RLG did. :cry:
     
  8. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    OMG. I had a very dear friend die of the selfsame disease, also in 2012. For a moment there, I thought we might be speaking of the same person, and that he was a friend of yours as well. But we're not. My friend was married, and happily so, and he did manage to do lots with his life before this horrific disease struck him down.
     
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  9. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    {{{{{{{{{{{{{{{jannert}}}}}}}}}}}}}
     
  10. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    Off the subject, but I know another woman with your same last name on another forum, but she goes by Ann. Interesting!
     
  11. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    That sounds like an awful disease and sounds like the same one in a fairly famous Japanese story that I've never watched/read simply because it looks heartbreaking. There was a girl who started documenting her disease as a teenager - I never knew what the disease was called but the girl also gradually lost control of her body, while her mind remained fully active and aware, until by the end even the breathing gives out. Anyway, she actually wrote a book about her experience before she passed, and a film and drama series have since sprung up based on it called A Thousand Litres of Tears. See why I've not watched it? (Edit: just checked on wiki, she'd suffered from spinocerebellar ataxia (SCA))

    Anyway, it's not frivolous to keep writing your character even with the original gone. If anything, you *have* to finish it because he's gone. Like Jannert said, you keep his memory alive, depicting him at the prime of his life, and in that way, you've made him immortal. There's no higher honour than to be remembered and even more, be written about - only historically significant figures get that privilege usually. You've given him a gift and is giving him special honour. I say finish it, and remember everything you wish to be remembered about him and pour it out onto the page. Dedicate the book to him.

    And, as you say, your character has declared his independence from the RL guy. Let your character lead. Somehow you'll make it work together. Although, don't rush back into writing - give yourself time to process things first. If you manage to write, great, and if you don't, don't be hard on yourself, it's okay.
     
    Last edited: Jul 1, 2014
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  12. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    That is... heartbreaking. I feel for you in the utmost that I can. May comfort, love, and healing continue their work in you...

    When you have a character based on someone so... so important (seemingly), it becomes imperative that you do him justice. With this circumstance, I ask that you remember your character for who you've made him to be, not for who his progenitor was. It can be a lot of pressure, now, to get the character right and shine a good light on your friend. I may even be difficult to writ without trying to honor the man. But you have to remember who is really in the story. In so doing, you will immortalize your friend in a well-rounded, carefully-handled character.

    I really am sorry to hear about the losses. :friend:
     
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  13. Annalise_Azevedo
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    Annalise_Azevedo Member

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    That's really weird... o_O

    Anyways, I pretty much know how it is when you go through of loss of an original. I know people who say that don't think about our friend as much but I pretty much think about him when I write his name on the computer - so it's pretty much daily. Just remember we're all here for you and do your very best when you shoot back into writing :agreed:
     
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  14. Amanda_Geisler
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    Amanda_Geisler Contributing Member Reviewer

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    I mean in time not age... And if I call you old I call myself old, I'm older than you remember.

    I think about our friend all the time, except I remember him from a song and I play that song every time I drive into town, putting him in my book would make me not want to write it, but I think there is a character with a little of his personality, but that character got killed in the second book :/ I wonder if that was my subconscious

    Amanda
     

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