Inside the mind of a fantasy writer

Should you use real people as characters in your books?

I give a definite, “No” on this question.

I do admit I have written a few short stories about people I know.  I’m a very observant person by nature (I love psychology and people watching) and there is one story I wrote that will always stick out in my mind.  When I was younger, I wrote a short fantasy piece with my friends and I as characters.

They were very baffled when they read it because I had nailed all of them to a T, right down to the phrases and actions they used.  This ignited a weird reaction from them that I didn’t like.  That mouth drop moment where they’re like, “How in the hell did you know that?”  or “Do I really sound like that?” or the dreaded, “It’s weird how you know me so well”.  I hated that feeling and often think about that piece because it reminds me of why I don’t want to write about people I know.

But.

I think in a way this is a little impossible.  For example, all of our original ideas stem from our own life experiences and that includes people we interact with.  All those experiences creep into our writing without us even knowing it.  Pieces of us will always be visible in our writing no matter how original we want our work to be because that’s just how it works.

I find this more visible in younger or more inexperienced writers.  Sometimes it’s like reading their diary without them even knowing they’re putting it on display for all of us to see.  I don’t know why inexperienced writers seem to be this way, maybe you have a few thoughts on it.  I’m guessing it’s because they write about what they know, rather than what they can create.

I’ve noticed in my books some of myself creeping in.  For example in The Bloodlust Prince, Aleesia is very close to her brother, as is Addison in Christian’s Kisses.  In real life, I have always been very close to my older brother (we were three years apart) and that bond has carried into my writing.  I also notice if a character has a child it is usually always a boy, probably because I myself have son.  Hmm…other examples, let’s see….

Well, this next example is a little awkward to mention but it’s very true no matter how much you deny it.

The role of past lovers or crushes.

If you’re writing about the ideal man some of his qualities may be like someone you do love or have loved.  We’ll put in a lot of things they do, like the way they flirt, the phrases they use, to even dirtier stuff that I don’t want to get into in this discussion right now.  I guess this kind of thing is natural considering these are the people we love and by saying love, I mean there are things about them we adore and those adorations will seep into our writing one way or another.  I’ve noticed a lot of my male characters have a lot of my longtime boyfriend’s characteristics and I wonder how much of those details show in my writing. (Bites nails)

Bottom line….our real life will always seep into our writing but we as writers need to do a good job not to let it show 🙂

So what do you think?  Can using people from your real life in books be dangerous or even disastrous to your book?

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15 responses

  1. this is a difficult one – i plan to write a story about my online love life this past year. i will change names and locations but people will recognise themselves and not be too pleased because some of it will not be very nice and some of it will be made up, simply for the sake of plot and comedy. a couple of these women know what’s coming and are cool with it but some will be furious.

    i’m a writer first and foremost, if you know me and befriend me, be prepared to see yourself in a character at some point and be prepared to be less than flattered.

    April 4, 2012 at 12:07 pm

    • Uh oh….I hope I won’t be an unflattering character in your book someday. And I think it takes A LOT of bravery to be able to write something like that. You’re a brave guy Kyle 😉

      April 4, 2012 at 12:11 pm

  2. Well, I wouldn’t necessarily tell my friends that I modeled a character after them, if I ever did. I’m not exactly certain why, though part of me blames my love of fantasy and fiction, but I find it difficult to base characters strictly off people I know. Now, I may use my experiences with others, like the way some customers act toward a book salesperson or how my mother interacts with my father, but usually that’s sub-conscience. I also kinda think that you shouldn’t worry about what your friends or family say about your writing to begin with. So what if you used them for a character bases? It’s not as if they are that actual character, and they should be honored that they were so important to you that you believed they deserved a spot in your novel/story. 🙂

    April 4, 2012 at 1:06 pm

    • I like that idea. Thinking of it as an honor to be included in some way in your novel/story. Very well put.

      April 4, 2012 at 1:34 pm

  3. When i try and create characters, i usually end up making an hybrid. An amalgamation of people i know, and the type of character i want to write about. It makes it a little easier to imagine them i think.
    Maybe i’ll take their name (sometimes literally, other times a variant on it) and some of their personality quirks, and mix it in with the character that is partially formed in my mind. It makes them seem a little more alive to me, and i hope that translates onto the pages of the story.
    When my friends and family have found out about it, they usually react positively, i think it’s mainly because the character is based ON them, and isnt actually them.

    April 4, 2012 at 3:54 pm

    • Yes, that does make a difference. Good point. It’s based on them but isn’t them.

      April 4, 2012 at 3:59 pm

  4. TheOthers1

    I try not to write exact characteristics, but like you said, we write from life. My first long novel had characteristics from a lot of my close friends, but not every characteristic was obvious. Creating from real life is a good place to start when learning how to write.

    April 4, 2012 at 3:55 pm

    • I very much agree. Writing is like any other art, you have to practice to get better.

      April 4, 2012 at 3:58 pm

  5. i’d guess it comes down to the depiction. positive traits will get positive responses from friends, and vice versa. as someone else suggested, sorta, don’t tell them. or, ask their permission first and expect a “no.” then do whatever the hell you want anyway!

    April 4, 2012 at 4:06 pm

    • Very true. As with anything positive is good and negative is bad lol.

      April 4, 2012 at 4:29 pm

  6. Hmmm I strange one I am currently writing my first novel and I have been influenced in a few characters not so much by their actual personalities but more by the character personas some of my friends use online. The friends whose persona’s I have borrowed elements from have been reading along as i write and so far have loved everything i have written for the characters. I guess the difference is in real life they would not act as the characters do they just like the idea they inspired me. The persona’s developed as part of a medieval war game and therefore when I decided to write a medieval fantasy it seemed natural to take some of these persona’s as starting points. But I must state they were only starting points as i have written more the characters have taken on lives of their own, they have grown and separated from the person whose persona they started out as.

    April 5, 2012 at 3:38 am

    • Once you develop your character, they seem to write themselves don’t they?

      April 5, 2012 at 5:03 am

      • Oh yes, and I have to say although my bad guy started out based on a friends persona, if he was anything like the character he would have been removed from my friends, blocked and quite possibly reported to several authorities lol But for me with it being my first novel having a starting point was helpful.

        April 5, 2012 at 5:21 am

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