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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Family and Friends Inspire Writers

Writers use what they know in their stories. If you grew up with a bunch of brothers, you might write a book with a cast of male characters, or a YA story about a girl living in a house full of boys. You could let your characters do similar things that your brothers did. If you experienced it, you’d be able to write it convincingly.

People inspire writers all the time, from strangers to loved ones, and even people we don’t like. We may borrow a personality trait from our best friend or give our mom’s cooking skills to our protagonist’s mother. We may let out heroine live out our sister’s nasty divorce, or give a minor character a friend’s cool tattoo. Doing this doesn’t mean our characters are based after people we know, though. Inspiration is different.


So if you’re a family member or friend of a writer, you can rest assured that the character in their book, who has a trait similar to you, is not actually you. The writer just thought that trait would be perfect for a character. That’s all. The only time you have to be worried about this is if he/she is writing a memoir, or if a fictional story sounds awfully reminiscent of their/your life.

A few of the characters in my unpublished series were originally inspired by my family and close friends. I gave one of my female characters my best friend’s caring, medical side of her personality, and another character her feisty, no BS side. But neither of them are my best friend, and while I wrote my books, the characters told me what kind of women they wanted to be, not the other way around.

So I’m curious . . .


QUESTIONS: Has your family and/or friends inspired any of your characters? How much of yourself do you give your characters? Have your loved ones ever read your work and asked if they were this character or that character? If so, how did you deal with it?


64 comments:

  1. I like to borrow traits from real people. I notice when I do that, people say my characters are realistic. I would never use someone word for word or look for look, though.

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    1. I would never do that either. Or at least I'd give them great disguises. ;) Haha!

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  2. My poems are mostly written on events in my life. They used to include my family but owing to my eldest son and daughter being estranged I only include my son in Spain. It's sad because I am being deprived of seeing my grandchildren which I'm sure , they would fit wonderfully in my writing.

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    1. I'm sorry that you're not able to see your two kids and grandchildren. I hope things change for you.

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  3. I've used my family history for stories but haven't really used any family members for characters. Or maybe I have without even realizing it LOL.

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    1. Family history is a fabulous thing to include in stories. And then you stories become more cherished and memorable because of it. :)

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  4. Some of my most original characters were loosely based on people I know. I never thought I used myself in my stories, but comparing all my books I now realize that some themes are recurrent and are closely linked to my own fears and interests.

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    1. I agree. The characters that have traits from my friends, and even me, are in my supernatural-thriller series and they are by far the most unique and realistic characters I've created so far.

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  5. I've used traits of me and obviously the cats a lot, and people I hate may have got worked into blog posts lol but that is as far as I've taken it.

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    1. I think I used traits for myself more than anything. I love that you write about your cats. Remind me to never get on your bad side. ;)

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  6. I really don't think I've taken much from my family and friends. And outside of perfectionism, there are few of my own traits that show up in my main characters.
    I wonder what that means...?

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    1. I give most of my characters traits of myself, too. I guess that means we're interesting. ;)

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  7. Ooooh, yes. I definitely pick up nuances from family! On the other hand I really enjoy making characters the complete opposite of my family i.e. I have a very supportive and loving father in one of my novels (in progress). It's kind of therapeutic. I also write my son and daughter in another novel. It was really fun writing their bond and friction. Great topic, Chrys.

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    1. I've definitely used my family situation in my stories, especially in future ones I plan to publish, but I tend to intensify the truth for fiction.

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  8. Yes.. I always draw on my family, They are a crazy bunch of people. If I need a strange habit. When my mom is working out an issue, she vacuums and talks to her trust Hover. I figure nothing is off limits, even eavesdropping on conversations in Starbucks,.

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    1. Nope, nothing is off limits. Everything is fair game for a writer. ;) And I think it's cute your mom talks to her vacuum.

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  9. I LOVE borrowing from real people.. it helps my characters feel so much more real! ;) I tend to explore my relationships with people through my writing, so I've definitely given some characters elements of myself and other characters elements of my friends and family, and sat back to watch the fireworks!

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    1. Isn't it fun? I find it therapeutic in using parts of myself and people I know, especially family.

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  10. I borrow from real people, but a character is never actually anyone I know. My mother asked me once if the parents one of my novels were supposed to be her and my dad. I don't know why she would have thought so. The characters in my book are nothing like my parents. But it still makes me laugh.

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    1. Finally! I was waiting for someone to say their family members have questioned their characters. Since my family doesn't read my books, I doubt I'll ever be asked.

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  11. There are some of my family who don't even know that I write...they'll find out one day when I gift them a copy of my book!

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  12. My 14-year-old stepdaughter keeps me in touch with what kids are doing today--reminding me that teens aren't carbon copies of what we were in the 80s!

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    1. LOL! Teens sure go change with the times.

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  13. I've always used traits from both myself and from my friends to make my characters more believable.

    www.modernworld4.blogspot.com

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    1. That's good! That's what I do, too. :)

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  14. There have been SO MANY moments in my life where I've thought 'If this were a story I was writing, this would be such an engaging scene. As for particular character traits from my friends, no I haven't done that too much.

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    1. I've used moments from my life for stories because I thought that same thing. ;)

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  15. Yes, my family and people I meet inspire my characters. They will never be the same (I wouldn't want them to be), but they have similar character traits.

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    1. Of course, I wouldn't want my family to actually be characters in my book. Only inspired by them. :)

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  16. Oh my goodness, all the time! A lot of my characters are variations of people that I've come across in life, but especially people in my family. Lots of my characters are sassy, strong-willed women who don't mind telling you where to stick it, and I grew up around plenty of women like that! I had a character in my first novel based on one of my cousins, but it was all in fun, and she thought it was hilarious.

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    1. I love that, Quanie! I'm glad your cousin loved the character she inspired. I haven't gotten the chance to read your books, but I plan to soon. :)

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  17. Many of the original characters in my Atlantic City books were initially based off of people I knew, either in basic physical appearance or a little more personally. Over time, they each evolved into their own people. I've still never told my dearest, oldest friend she and her family were the initial basis for my character Ariania (Air-ee-AY-nee-yah) Miller and her family.

    I also couldn't help basing now three dysfunctional, emotionally incestuous families on my ex and his own family. One of those families was originally planned as Russian, but I changed it to Hungarian so it wouldn't be too similar.

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    1. I love it when character evolve into their own people. Don't you? An incestuous family based on your exes family? That's funny!

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  18. I would also never base my characters on people I know, but I might use little things, here and there, a habit from one person, a pet peeve or fear from another, etc. And, yes, many of my characters end up sharing some of my personal traits. I don't do this purposely though. It just sort of happens. :)

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    1. Exactly. That's the best thing to do! :D

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  19. Oh man I have a hard time letting my mom read my stories, because she is always trying to read into any of the mother characters. She is like, "I don't do that!" And I'm all, no crap mom, it's not You. It's a made-up character. That having been said, I have so many straight up crazy characters in my family, I have tapped into their wonky personality traits and "borrowed" them for a few characters.

    Great post Chrys!!

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    1. Haha! That's cute. I guess a mother just can't help it.

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  20. You'd be amazed how much real life is in fiction. I know I do it, so I sometimes wonder what parts of someone's book was an actual experience for the author. :)

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    1. I often put personal experiences in my books. ;)

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  21. The family and friends have definitely inspired but like you said, they're not them. They may share some traits but they're not a fictional clone.

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  22. My brother was one of my inspirations for Derek, Thanmir War's protagonist. Derek changed a lot from then though, and doesn't resemble my brother at all anymore. That was 16 years ago anyways.

    None of the rest of my family made it into the story. They're all a little too zany to be believable. :)

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    1. I think it's neat your brother inspired Derek. I'm bet he's proud of that. :)

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  23. Thankfully I have such a dyslexic subconscious that none of my characters resemble the people they were based off. They've got too many pieces of other people. I did base several characters off the brother just older than me, but you'd never know that by meeting him because I saw him completely different as a kid than he is today. I also recently realized one of my characters was based off my dad. Total eye-opener. (He is totally not the "dad" type of character.)

    Unleashing the Dreamworld

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    1. It's fun to base characters after family but make them drastically different at the same time. :)

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  24. I've never consciously based a character on someone I know, but since everything in my life informs my writing, I'm sure they've seeped into the characters, anyway! Funny enough, people see themselves in my work, no matter what my intention. I just tell them I didn't do it consciously but am glad they can identify with the character! :)

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    1. Sometimes we don't do it consciously and it's because everything we know, see, hear, etc. influences our writing without us even knowing it.

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  25. Absolutely, my family has inspired characters in my books. They're not exact replicas, but a lot of their traits and quirks are part of my characters.

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  26. I've only written a few characters - one of them being a cat. And it's pretty much a conglomeration of all the cats we've owned. They don't care if I write about them...just don't talk for them in person. They hate that.

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    1. Writing about a cat character that is a mashup of all of your cats must've been fun. ;)

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  27. Yeah, I often put bits of people I know into my writing, or base events on something which really happened. That's just a starting point though - the end result is always fiction.

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  28. Did you ever try to write about something that happened to you...and have trouble disguising yourself? One of my sisters called me on that one in a short story. Ha ha ha.

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    1. Haha! Well, my family doesn't read anything I write, so they probably wouldn't notice or call me out on it. ;)

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  29. Hi Chris, a very timely question for me. My current WIP's main characters are modeled after my sister and her husband. I even use their first names. Of course, I got their permission first.

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    1. Getting their permission when you model a character after someone and don't disguise it is the right thing to do. :)

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  30. For sure, I've had many a friend and family member who've provided material for my books just based on their names and character quirks.

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  31. Yes, yes! Some of my characters are based on people I know. More accurately, it's their traits I've borrowed, and nope I've never told them. They haven't read my books so don't think they'll ever find out. (Nothing unflattering anyway.)

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    1. No one I've used traits for have read my books, so we're safe. ;)

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  32. I followed the rabbit trail over here to this post. I generally write non-fiction (especially enjoy creative non-fiction) and memoir. The latter is problematic which may be why I haven't tried to publish more memoir. Now I am working on a fictional piece using historical facts, but the folks are all dead!

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    1. I'm glad the rabbit trail brought you here, Sage. Writing a memoir would be the hardest.

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