One of my favorite pieces of advice that I see given to budding authors all the time (and that I’ve given myself on occasion) is to model your characters after real people. It’s the best way to get a fully-rounded, dimensional character.
I happen to like to use celebrities as models for characters. Many are the times I’ve “cast” some of my favorite Hollywood hunks as the heroes in my novels, particularly when it comes to envisioning them acting out the love scenes. Mmmm…. Hunky celebrities with their shirts off!
But I digress.
Basing characters off of real people doesn’t stop with celebrities. Sooner or later any good writer is going to look at someone they know and feel that burning urge to make a character out of them. Why? Because there are just so many people who fill our everyday lives and who stand out, for good or for ill. And what better way to deal with the emotions they provoke than by immortalizing them in fiction?
For example, I have a story idea that’s been kicking around my head for a while now – one that I’ll probably get to in early 2014 if everything stays on the track it’s on now – that involves a, shall we say, freelance naval adventurer and his frigate sailing the ocean blue in around 1800. I will confess right now that I intend to man this fictional sailing vessel with all of the real-life members of my cricket club. Yes, Mike and Klaus, Tahir and Shariq, Krish and Satish and Jon and Ernie may someday find themselves reading about sailors who seem a little on the familiar side. It’s going to be a challenge to find a way to fit them all in, but I’m up for it.
Okay, I have to confess something. An alarming number of the characters in my Montana Romance series, in Our Little Secrets and the soon-to-be-released Fool for Love, are people I know or know of in my real life.
Scandal! Intrigue! Mystery!
So which characters are based on people from my life and, more importantly, would they be able to recognize themselves?
Here’s the scoop. For starters, the character of Christian Avery, Justice of the Peace, is a relatively minor character in Our Little Secrets and Fool for Love. But he’s set to be the hero of the third book in the series, In Your Arms. He also happens to be based off of a former coworker. I haven’t seen this former coworker in, oh, eight years? He’s probably forgotten my existence. But to me he was so physically striking and had such a beautiful voice – but was so reserved – that he’s always stuck with me. Mind you, Christian Avery is far more of a stick-in-the-mud than my former coworker, but underneath Christian’s brusk and glowering surface beats the heart of …. No, I’m not going to mention his real name.
Phineas Bell is also loosely based on an old friend of mine. But in this case, as the character developed and began to interact with his world, he migrated away from my old friend and into a personality all his own. It’s funny how characters do that. You can start with a real person as a template, but they’re going to become who they are in the long-run, whether you like it or not. Fortunately in this case, I like it. Phin is a fantastic guy – and the hero of the fourth and final novel in the series, Someone to Love. (Not decided on that title yet, by the way, so don’t get too attached to it).
But guess what? Guess who else in the Montana Romance series is based on someone I know in real life. Yes, Jacinta Archer. And if you’ve read any of these books yet, you’ve probably just smacked your hand over your mouth and said, “Oh my gosh, does she know that’s her?” My answer? Gosh, I hope not! Because my real life friend on whom Jacinta is based is actually one of the nicest, funniest, cutest people I know. But I think she’d have a sense of humor about how badly her character behaves.
Along with those three, there’s a small character in Fool for Love named Sarah who is directly based off of someone I know. I was just going to pop her in there and give her one line, but as I revised and edited the novel the character got bigger and bigger, and now I have plans to write a novella in which she is the heroine. Funny how characters stand out and wave their arms at you that way. Delilah is also based on someone I had a few interactions with a while back. She’s another character who has taken on a life of her own as I’ve written her. I rather like her and wish I had her around to give me advice sometimes!
So are any of these characters, present or planned, so similar to the people they were based off of that I could be sued for libel? Not at this point. Real people are great starting-points for fictional people, but once the writing starts, it’s amazing how the characters grow. That’s what good characters do. I don’t know about you, but I kind of like it that way!
As a special treat for today and leading up to the release of Fool for Love on April 20th, one lucky commenter will win a free eBook of Our Little Secrets. The winner will be picked on Friday. So go ahead, if you’re a writer, tell us about a character you’ve written based off of a real life person. And if you’re a reader, have you ever come across a character in a book that reminds you of someone you know?