Friday, February 6, 2009

Basing Characters on People You Know

“Draw your characters from your experience. Mix and match the mannerisms, life experiences, and appearances of your friends and the people you encounter.” -- William G. Tapply in The Elements of Mystery Fiction
I’ve read this advice in many articles. It’s something I don’t do. Oh, I may use an occasional mannerism or hair style, but I don’t base my characters on anyone in particular, or at least I try not to. I guess I’m afraid I won’t camouflage the person enough, and someone will recognize himself.

I struggled with one story because, although I didn’t provide a description, the character was in a similar situation to my father-in-law. I didn’t want family members to think I was writing about him -- and their dead mother by implication. No one said anything to me when the tale was published, but I wonder if they were being polite.


AVR said...

I wrote a post some time back similar to this. I had the same thought to use people you know and take their "good" and "bad" things and mix and match and make up your characters this way. I think you should not be concerned if one of your characters is similar to someone in your real life. I think this will inhibit your creativity; you should write and not worry about this. There is a disclaimer I know in books about characters being fictional. Your family and friends know you are a writer and that you would not purposely model someone exactly like one of them. A lot of people have similar characteristics anyway.

Loren Christie said...

If they are relatives, they will guess. I think Ray Romano commented that his parents stopped speaking to him a few times over his sitcom. One can consider family get-togethers as field work.