1. Lady BA

    Lady BA New Member

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    How do you handle using real people to create fictional characters?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Lady BA, Jun 23, 2017.

    I've done a lot of reading recently about developing fictional characters from real people and while I've learned all about the laws and the guidelines I should follow, I am still at loss for where I should start.

    Do you ever interview real people to dig deeper into motives or personalities? How do you avoid basing a character too much on one person?

    Honestly, any thoughts and suggestions around this topic would be very helpful.

    Thanks,
    AS
     
  2. Masked Mole

    Masked Mole Senior Member

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    Are these characters in your works based on well-known or famous people? If not, I see no issue with simply taking that person's traits and quirks and using them for your own character. Inevitably, the description and dialogue you use for that person will not be a carbon copy. It will simply be your personal perspective of that person. You shouldn't feel bad about using a friend or family member in your work, since your feelings and descriptions of them will only be a facet of his or her true being.
    If the character is based off of a famous figure, then the rules change completely.
     
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  3. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

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    I've tried to base my characters on other people, and it's only worked once (and even then, I changed a lot more than I kept the same). Is it possible that you have to create your characters from scratch as much as I do?

    If you do have to base your characters on real people, then absolutely try to learn the best ways to interview people about themselves, and you should consider mixing and matching the character traits of different people if you want to avoid a 1:1 connection between any one real person and any one character.
     
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  4. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, I use real people as scaffolding, but only just that. The broad strokes. I would personally never interview a person in this regard, but only because I know of the classic problem with doing that. Emic date (when you ask the person directly for their input) suffers from social lying. We paint ourselves in the best light, or least in a light that isn't too unflattering. It's natural and universal. All people do this. When anthropologists or sociologists study people they use a combination of emic data (ask them) and etic data (only observe) to hopefully balance things out. Since the creation of a character isn't something where I'm going to feel the responsibility and accountability to describe with scientific accuracy (as I would if I were describing a real person or people who could be affected by my description) then etic data is enough. It's for me to create the inner workings that equal the outer manifestations.
     
  5. Lady BA

    Lady BA New Member

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    Thank you all for your thoughts!

    I definitely had a concern that interviewing people would only lead to them lying about their true selves. As a journalist, it's my instinct to ask a lot of questions, but I appreciate you suggesting the etic data, @Wreybies. I am definitely going to put that into practice. I've now dedicated a notebook to observation.
     
  6. JE Loddon

    JE Loddon Active Member

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    Personally, I wouldn't look too deeply into the real people you're basing the characters on, because that will inform your own characters too much. Just use the surface stuff as a starting point, then let your imagination fill in the blanks.
     
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  7. Mocheo Timo

    Mocheo Timo Senior Member

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    I always use real people to create my characters, to some degree at least.
    I try to use faces I see a lot because it's easier to describe them since they can be readily retrieved in your mind.
    From that point on, I decide whether to make my character exactly like that person (depending on how much I know him/her) or to change traits as I wish.
    I never interview them (or ask their permission, for that matter):supercheeky:.
    Since I create them based on my own observations of the person and my observations are biased, the character usually does not end up so much like the real person.

    I've created a character before with the exact personality traits of a friend of mine.
    I've also looked up images of a Facebook "friend" I didn't really know and used her physical appearance in one of my characters.
    (You may feel a bit like a stalker while trying this, but it could work).
    In another occasion, I created a character exactly like someone I knew (physical traits and personality)
    but since I didn't know the person too well I tried to guess how she would react in certain situations.
    In the end she became a new character entirely.
     
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  8. Odile_Blud

    Odile_Blud Active Member

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    If you want to use personality traits and quirks, that's fine. Just avoid using names. If you're inspired by someone's appearance, don't describe them to a cue, especially if the personality traits line up with that person as well.
     
  9. Ale

    Ale Member

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    I think you can really tell when a writer understands people well, as their characters have certain flashes of motivations and flaws that really ring true. I think you don't need to interview people for that, you just have to be a (as others mentioned above) good observer.
     
  10. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Naysmith Contributor

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    The best advice I can give you is to, literally, base a character on a real person. Have them in your head, their voice and their look and mannerisms, use that as a guide as you feel the character out then just let the story take them and let the writing and the moments you're creating fill in everything else. The real person is just a place holder for a character, something that lets you instinctively know the kind of thing they'd say or do in mundane situations so that you can get underway and then when you hit a moment where you don't quite know what to do, that's when you start writing the new character.

    Almost all my characters have some real life basis for them, but it's just that; a base. It's to get you through the 'hello, how do you dos'. It's to get you over the hump in a way that doesn't need you to do much work. It lets you just start writing the character and get some momentum and see where you are going to take them; it's a running start into a fresh character that gives you a hint of where to reach for for those little lifelike touches that fit around the edges to bring the character to life. You don't have to figure out how it fits together, you know already, so when you need to think what radio station they listen to then you just kinda know (or can guess well enough) and so instead of having to stop and figure out what music fits for their age and their style you can just say 'Led Zepplin' and move on. But where you go from there is the character not the person; maybe this character is the type of classic rock fan who always complains about what music is playing or tells insufferable anecdotes about the time they met the bloke from King Diamond when the real person is a million miles away from that.

    You should use the real person as a jumping off point.
     
  11. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Potatoes again? Supporter Contributor

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    The only thing I can add to this is to remember that everyone has a rational reason for everything they do, and there are no bad guys.

    Not in their own eyes, anyway.

    So if you're writing a villain/antagonist, don't forget to get inside their heads when they're doing something "bad". As a I've grown older and taken on a position of responsibility, I've found myself much more sympathetic to a lot of the "villains" in film and literature. For example, Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (film version, I don't remember the book so well) was doing a difficult job of riding herd over a bunch of legitimately mentally ill people and doing her best to treat and improve their conditions when McMurphy showed up and started screwing with things for his own entertainment. Yes, she went way too far in the end, but burnout in the medical profession is a very real thing.

    Right, lecturing, sorry. Anyway, even if it doesn't make it into the story, don't forget to look into your character's view of things.
     
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  12. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    I have based many of my characters on real people. However, I only use their personalities, and put them together in a way that has no connection to real life. That's fun to play with, actually. What if my grannie was my best friend and my own age? What if the boss I work for was actually the father of my grannie who is my best friend? What if my grannie was a guy? (Flipping gender is fun, and also keeps you from creating stereotypes.)

    If you go this route, nobody is going to make the connection to the real people involved. And yet you have a character blueprint that will be lifelike, and will stop you from accidentally creating Mary Sues or a fairytale prince—or Sauron.
     
  13. Lemie

    Lemie Contributor Contributor

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    I wouldn't be able to base a character of someone I knew. I've probably been inspired subconsciously by people and thus based characters on someones trait or what not, but doing it "knowingly" would be too weird for me. I would barley name a character after someone I know. I know it's silly, but it would feel too weird to me.

    Though if I WOULD try to base someone of someone I know I'd base it of my view of that person. Not the entire person, of course, but I'd take one quirk or trait that the person haven't even noticed about themselves and then work from there. If the person can tell that you've used them in their books I'd say things would probably get really weird, unless you've asked their permission.

    Unless you're writing a story based of their life/experience and then with their consent and so on, I'd say, just "admire" them from afar.
     
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  14. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    The trick is to make the characters unrecognisable. Don't write a story about a character's boyfriend and base the story on a real boyfriend you had once. Or write about somebody's mother who is exactly like your mother. Instead, write a story about a character's boyfriend who is actually based on your old boss whom you respected, but didn't have a crush on, and whom you haven't seen in years. Nobody is going to put two and two together. Especially if you don't give them the same physical characteristics or, of course, the same name or a similar name.

    I based a strong secondary character in my novel on a guy I used to work with, and got to know really well, because his girlfriend was my roommate. He was a lot of fun, never appeared to take anything seriously, like to stir up mischief ...but if things went bad, he was not only totally reliable, but got the job done better than anybody else.

    In my story I needed a character just like that. However, my character is a female. NOBODY is ever going to connect her with the real model. And no, she doesn't look like him at all, either. But as soon as I began to think of her as having the same personality as my old friend, everything fell into place. I wrote her very easily.
     
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  15. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll It's Coffee O'clock everywhere. Contributor

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    I use bits and pieces of many persons I know, when it comes to character
    persona. But not all the time, as I like to explore the capabilities of creating
    stand alone characters as well.

    Everybody has their own way of creating characters based on their own
    device, and thats fine. Just don't make them a carbon copy of someone
    you know or a celeb, and you should just fine. :)
     
  16. Partridge

    Partridge Senior Member

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    All of my characters are based on somebody who exists in the real world.
    A good example is my MC's love interest. I got my inspiration from somebody I work with: I've used the kind of acerbic retorts my friend from work uses, her vernacular and a similar back story to explain why she is the way she is. My MC and his love interest also bounce off each other in the same way my friend and I do, so I think it's made the chemistry very real.

    However, she looks nothing like my friend. She's taller than my friend, has different colour hair and I imagine her facial features to be totally different. If she read the book, I'm not convinced she'd see herself in the character.

    I've used my take on her, as I only have information about she reacts to me. My friend is probably totally different around her boyfriend, different around her Mum and different when she's on her own in her bedroom, relaxed, without any "layers" she's had to put on to hide parts of her personality.
     
  17. Rewrite The Ending

    Rewrite The Ending Member

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    I look at personality traits only, sometimes I look at pictures, usually someone I don't know well or not at all but they know someone I know somehow and I think of what the person could be like. Based on their psychial appearance and how they appear in pictures, I make observatiom and get a "vibe" of the person. And yes, it leads to having to do some social media stalking, but it is only to find inspiration.

    Sometimes it can be a stranger who has an air about them that speaks to me, there is something about them, a charm they have and I write down my own idea of what they could be like as a person.

    I have read that it is good to use some real person influence on a character, it can give more unique personality idea's and you may end up with less characters that may end up being too much of a known character trope like "the deadpan snarker" or "the naive one" etc.

    I would also mix up personalities to get a different idea.

    I do feel like I do not know many people well enough, I pretty much have no friends in real life and I really wish I had friends but regardless, I do hope to be able to write three-dimensional characters that are interesting and not too unrealistic.
     

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