When someone inspires a character

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When someone inspires a character

Post by CricketJohnson » February 18th, 2012, 9:41 pm

I've been rolling this thought around in my mind:

We are writers, so we write what, and often, who we know. If someone from your life (past or present) inspires you to write a character, would (should) you tell them?

My stories are, of course, important to me. Often some habit, something said, a special quality about a person stays with me and perhaps inspires a character or a scene. In one instance, a single remembered gesture transformed a story and became the driving force behind something I'm proud to have created. Such inspiration for a writer can be a life changing thing. Shouldn't someone know that about themselves?

Or would it be weird?
A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people. ~ Thomas Mann

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Re: When someone inspires a character

Post by ladymarella » February 19th, 2012, 4:47 am

I imagine it depends.
I am comfortable telling my best friends that they have found their way into my novel in various forms, and they like that, but telling the guy I once liked that he was the inspiration behind much of a romance subplot i think is out of the question.

i think the main problem with telling someone that a character is based on them, is that when we base characters on people, they invariably take on lives of their own, and transform themselves beyond the original inspiration. As the author you know which bits of a character are based off people you know, and which parts aren't; they don't necessarily know this, and it could potentially cause awkward situations.

I have this killer line of dialogue that I plucked from a real life conversation once. Hope if he ever reads it one day he won't remember the conversation, seeming the scene then turns into a proposal!
Currently composing a sprawling family saga set in 19th century England
The world may be divided into people that read, people that write, people that think, and fox-hunters.'- William Shenstone,

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Re: When someone inspires a character

Post by Mira » February 19th, 2012, 5:41 pm

Interesting question, and I liked what ladymarella said.

I think letting someone know, stranger or friend, that they inspired you is wonderful; it's returning the gift that they gave you, to the best of your ability.

The only thing is - you have to be cautious on a practical level. This doesn't mean you don't tell them, but it may mean having them sign permission forms.

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Re: When someone inspires a character

Post by Sommer Leigh » February 21st, 2012, 1:20 pm

Personally, I don't tell.

It's not that I don't appreciate them for giving me this inspiration, but you've got to be careful too. This is going to sound terrible, but people, in general, tend to be pretty self-centered and greedy when it comes to their identity. People want to only be shown in the very best light and if there's any way to make a profit from being who they are, they usually want in on it. I really, really, really want to stress that people are by far awesome in general, but when it comes to a person's identity, the things that make them them, you get into dodgy territory. I can't believe how many times I've had someone say, in some form or another, "I've got this great idea for a novel. I could tell you all about it, you could write it, and we can split the profits 60/40 or 70/30. I had to spend the time thinking everything up, you're just writing it down so I will get the bigger percent of the profits. You understand right?"

There are two reasons I don't tell people they inspired something in a story:

1) Think about all the friendships you've ever had. How many of them have lasted? How many have changed? If a friend drifts away and you are no longer as close as you were when you told them, you can get into some awkward trouble if they decide they want to be paid for their "inspiration" in your new book. Even if they don't have a legal right to it, they can still make trouble. In the same vein, if they read your book and demand you remove that inspiration and then start finding all these other things in your story they are sure you took from them, again, awkward trouble.

2) So you write your book and your friend inspired some trait in a character. Your friend reads the book and discovers that character also has some unlikable traits, is the villain, or does something/believes something your friend is against. Your friend doesn't separate the fact you borrowed the one trait, not the whole person, and believes you think your friend is the way the character is. Suddenly you've greatly offended your friend, maybe permanently. Then you face them asking you to remove the character, the trait, or change it to suit them. And then what? Do you change it for them? Risk losing the friendship?

It is my experience that people like themselves in books a lot less than they think they will.

It is my experience it is even worse if the person is family.
May the word counts be ever in your favor. http://www.sommerleigh.com
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Re: When someone inspires a character

Post by jenna234 » February 21st, 2012, 2:15 pm

I agree with sommer lee. My best friend influenced a character in a short I wrote. Feeling safe sharing that with her, I mentioned it in a casuel conversation. Instead of thinking about the trait she immediatly took the greater tone of the short as something against her personally. Luckily the whole thing blew over but I learned my lesson. Now I just keep it to myself.

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Re: When someone inspires a character

Post by isabellearcher » March 13th, 2012, 8:07 am

nah, i dont c the point in telling them and Depends.... :)

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Re: When someone inspires a character

Post by Falls Apart » March 18th, 2012, 10:43 pm

I never tell. My characters all either (a) are horrible people, (b) go through hell, or, usually, (c) both. In fact, this is why I rarely do base characters off of people, but when I do, I'd never say anything. Because it'd be an insult.

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Re: When someone inspires a character

Post by dios4vida » March 20th, 2012, 11:49 am

I only based my characters on real people in my first novel. It caused so many problems in my own mind (needing the character to act this way but knowing the person I'd based them on wouldn't caused several mini brain implosions) that now I try my hardest not to have a specific person in mind when I create my characters. Might be why I have problems with character development.

One of the characters in said first novel was based on my sister, who, for the record, is a very pragmatic scientist and has no love of fiction. (We're nothing alike.) This character was a strong warrior-woman who tended to get in trouble for her brash tongue. Also like my sister, except with a bow and arrows.

When I told her about this character, I was careful with my phrasing. "I have this character, Realla, and she's strong and beautiful and confident and a little brash. She reminds me of you."

That way I didn't say that I'd based Realla on her - therefore anything she may not have liked about her isn't "something that I see in her", it's just that some things this person does are reminiscient of her, and she can take that how she wants. And since I mentioned all of Realla's positive traits and one negative-ish, but one that my sister knows she has and isn't at all regretful for having, it went over swimmingly.

But overall, I agree with Sommer and the others. Telling people is super dangerous.
Brenda :)

Inspiration isn't about the muse. Inspiration is working until something clicks. ~Brandon Sanderson

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