For as long as I can remember I’ve always modeled the characters in my stories after particular actors or actresses that struck my fancy. Sometimes an entire story would suggest itself to me when I watched a given performance of my favorite actors. Not exactly a retelling of the thing I saw them in, but a variation.
For some reason a little voice at the back of my head has always considered this cheating. Are you really creating an original character if you’re modeling them off of somebody else?
Imagine my surprise the other week when I finished reading Eloisa James’ novella Winning the Wallflower and there in her notes after the story she mentioned that some of her characters in this latest series were based off of House and Forest Gump! Wait a minute, maybe I’m not the only person who does this.
In fact, I already knew that I wasn’t. Last year while attending a writing workshop taught by Jenni Holbrook she mentioned that she uses what she called “templates” to create her characters.
I love this idea of templates. Templates exist everywhere, from Word documents to architecture to fashion design. All sorts of industries start with one thing and make it into something else. I’ve always worried that there is a sort of plagiarism in the way I have become enamored of a character and then taken them out of their original setting and made them into something else.
Take, for example, the character Danny in my Grace’s Moon sci-fi series. I’m not gonna lie. That character started out as Ben Linus from Lost. Yes, creepy Ben Linus. But I love Ben. I loved Ben from the moment he first appeared on the screen. Probably because Michael Emerson is an amazing actor and as someone with a master’s degree in theater I know acting and I appreciate it when I see someone who does it well.
But those of you who watched Lost know that Ben was a nasty little man, manipulating things behind the scenes, ruthless in his pursuit of what he wanted, dedicated to The Island, and at the same time tragic in everything that life had thrown his way. There is no way that character is ever going to be considered a hero. But as I said, I love him and I wanted him to get his moment in the sun.
I wanted it so badly that I created Danny.
Now Danny is not Ben. There are some fundamental differences in everything they stand for and the way they act on it. But the essence of what spawned Danny began in Ben Linus. That’s what a template means to me. I saw something I liked in a package I found attractive and morphed it into a whole new character.
I did the same thing with Crispin from my novel The Loyal Heart. Crispin started off as Richard Armitage. I saw a couple of episodes of the BBC Robin Hood TV series he was in and spun it out in my imagination in an entirely different way. Throw in about four other versions of the Robin Hood legend, A Knight’s Tale, Shakespeare in Love, one of my favorite childhood novels, a dash of The Princess Bride, and the actual history of the time period and voila! An entire Medieval trilogy. But it all started because I think Richard Armitage is the sexiest man on the planet.
I think people do this with more than just characters. We’ve all heard that old saying that there are no original stories. So in essence every story out there is based off of a template. In Romance these days there seems to be a trend of basing stories off of fairy tales. And why not? There is very little difference between a fairy tale and a romance novel. Girl meets boy, obstacle gets in the way, girl marries boy. It’s a template.
I do like to use celebrities and other well-known people (and a few people I know in real life) as my character templates though. It’s fun to throw together really odd pairings. I think I mentioned before in a post about Character Pics that the aforementioned Michael Emerson has been the template for more heroes in my novels than any other man (with Richard Armitage a close second – now how’s that for two entirely different men!). Well, in my very soon to be published novel Our Little Secrets Michael Emerson is indeed the template for the character Michael. And as you can see, I am not at all subtle about it. And guess who the template for my heroine is? Zooey Deschanel. Now seriously. Who in their right mind would ever think of putting those two together in a romantic situation? That would be me.
So who else here uses templates for their characters? And who do you use? I’m dying to know which celebs out there are getting the most action in the imaginations of the writers of the world.