Basing my characters on people I know or have known…. right or wrong…?

faceWhat’s the answer? Who bloody knows?? And who is anyone to tell anyone?

Here’s how I see it. Basically, I’ve asked this question several times on different forums and Facebook pages and I’ve got varying replies, ranging from “Oh yes, I once based a serial killer entirely on my sixth grade teacher and he still doesn’t know, bwahaha!” to “Actually, I think that’s not only disrespectful, but I also hope she finds out and sues you because a person’s own persona is their own property and it’s also questionable writing ethics in my opinion, and just… wrong!!!”

But hey… with this in mind… Bloody Hell!! I mean if we CAN’T base our characters on people we know, or have known at some point in our lives, then what CAN we do??? Base them on ourselves? Ok, yep. I can see how exciting that’s gonna turn out…

I’m a 46 year old female from Northern Ireland who spent most of her life working in accounts and doing Post Office work, who now has a t-shirt printing business and who, after a failed 14 year relationship, is now in a very happy 6 year relationship, and who has had a total of 4 dogs of her own, two of which have sadly died (RIP Harvey & Phoebe) leaving Jake (13) and Juno (3)…. Yeah… You want to read about that?

There are many (MANY) comedians who do impressions of famous people, saying things that that person may or may not ordinarily say… but hey, it’s funny, so it’s ok… Right…? Do they get sued….? Take a persona and make them say something that you want them to say for the sake of creativity. It’s ok, it has to be!

Even the ‘Harry Potter’ books were plagued by Wizards inspired by Muggles….

So. Here’s the deal. I want to be a writer. So what do I write about?

My problem is this: if I don’t write about other people that I’ve met in my life, and my experiences with those other people, even in a fictional way, then really, in fact surely, all I’m really doing is writing my own journal every night…? And who the hell wants to read that??

Being a writer. Wanting to write. Having to write. And needing other people to want to read what you write. That’s what it’s all about. Unless of course you skip the whole ‘other people’ part and you’re only doing it for yourself. And in most circumstances, we’re not all that interesting. Would anyone really read our autobiographies? I’d (personally) rather read the next installment of the Harry Potter novels after the final book, than an autobiography of JK Rowling. I’m sorry. I’m sure it’s fascinating, but more fascinating than the world she created? No. Nope. Definitely not.

Here’s my decision: I will, if I so choose, base my characters on people that I have known. They might have the same job, they might not, they might have the same hair, they might not, glasses, mannerisms, etc… but here’s where it differs… The things that they actually say and do in my novel will be from me, from my perspective of what I think they MIGHT say or do in that situation. Because the situations that they might find themselves in in my book will be different than any they ever experienced when I knew them, that’s for sure. And with that, they are mine, my own creation.

To answer my own question… Right!!!

Till next time 🙂 x

Please feel free to add your own tuppence worth to the topic by commenting in the box below. I’m more than happy for any and all input 🙂

4 thoughts on “Basing my characters on people I know or have known…. right or wrong…?

  1. John

    Okay writibg about people around you can only limit you to what you think about them as in your perception about them which I think is not convincing enough. If you want to write about people then I think you should let them know, ask the question, then this can shed some light to what is and what’s not. All in my opinion though

    1. Heidi

      Thanks for the comment. Writing *about* people and basing character traits on real live people are two different things. I don’t have any intention of writing a non-fiction book about anyone, but I have every intention of taking aspects of certain people’s personalities and incorporating those into certain characters in my book. A wicked sense of humour, the inability to see the badness in people, the ridiculous sound of a laugh, the way they never excuse themselves when they burp…. all things that real people may have done, things that I think would add to a character and the readers’ perception of them. Not limiting at all, in my opinion. In fact, it opens up a whole world of writing promise 🙂 

  2. Kashia

    Excellent post and I agree.

    Taking certain aspects and personality quirks from people you know in real life can help make the characters in your novel more believable.

    It’s completely different from writing the actual person into the novel. For example, if there’s someone you hate, you’d write them as a villain in the novel just to get their life ruined by the hero, which I’m sure you know is a big thing not to do.

    But say, if you know someone who is always making jokes by picking at people’s weak points, and you make that a trait for a character in your novel, that’s definitely not a problem in my opinion.

    1. Heidi

      I hear you… but the devil in me would say that if there was someone I hated, and I wrote them into my book as a villain, with some really bad character personality traits, would they really stand up and say “Hey! That’s ME!”…?? We won’t know till we try…. 😉

      On the other hand, I have a character in my book who is (in book-character terms) a year and a half old. I started a new job six months ago, and there is a guy who works with me who IS that character. Exactly. I never knew him before, but his whole persona is the same as this character I “built” almost 2 years ago. So do I drop the character? Nope. The situation he’s in, the things he says, they’re all very different from this guy that I’m working with who is real. It’s just their ‘way’ of doing things and saying things that is the same. And really, that could be said for a lot of people.

      Thank you for your comment, it’s much appreciated 🙂


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