Writing – Using Real People in Fiction Can Spell Trouble!

Victorian Lady Portrait

Victorian Lady Portrait (Photo credit: Aminimanda)

The other day, I was telling my son about a dead relative whose personality I have partly used when creating Jane Snow, my heroine’s paid companion and fellow detective in Mulgrave Castle.  My relative had a strange notion that when a man smiled at her, he had certain ideas because the chaps were too frisky for their own good.  One of the theme’s I want to explore in this series of Victorian psychic novels is female desire in the Victorian era as I became very interested in how it was used in Literature whilst a student.  Although, I have used Jane Snow’s attitude to males in a comic way because it was something which was both amusing and endearing in my relative, I think she might react badly if she knew that this aspect of Jane’s character is based on her.  I think she might see it as being laughed at instead of understanding that it is celebrating the fact that she was such a character.  Although, to be honest, I wonder if she would identify herself with the character, she might not.



The reason I say that my relative might not recognise herself is because of a story I was told when I was doing a course on scriptwriting.  The writer who took the course was a playwright and a television scriptwriter.  He was adamant about only using one aspect of a person’s personality when creating your own characters.  The reason for this was personal experience.  He had written a television drama and used a few aspects of the personality of a woman who was in his circle of friends as one of the characters; at the time of writing, he thought that he had disguised her well enough for no-one to know whom he had based the character on.



After the drama was screened, he was shocked that most of the circle of friends identified the woman whom he had used as a character.  Fortunately, the woman did not recognise herself and none of the others pointed it out to her.  The experience was enough to convince him though that we should never use more than one aspect of a person’s personality traits when creating a character.



On the other hand, I created the character, Will Blyton based on my son, Will and am writing a second book about him.  Often, I will read a part out to him and he will call me a cheeky so and so because I am depicting a real live occurrence.  He knows I am writing about a character based on him and likes the fact that he is my muse.  However, if he did not, I would not do it.



So what about you?  Have you ever written about someone and they have recognised themselves?  Do you use aspects of real life people at all when creating characters?  Do tell!




Filed under Creative Writing, Inspiration and Us

20 responses to “Writing – Using Real People in Fiction Can Spell Trouble!

  1. Got me worried now since new book is all about the people I know! It’s not fiction of course. But I remember writing a piece based around the problems a home educator I knew was experiencing, just so that others could gain something from it, and they recognised themselves and were not pleased at all – friendship lost actually! It’s a very tricky one and it scares me to death as I’m about to publish a memoir which is of course full of real people! x

  2. Mmm, it does get sticky. I would love to write a memoir, but don’t feel safe doing so. There is a lot of liability there, not just financially but emotionally as well.

    A fictional story is different, although I think that basing characters on people we know in real life is akin to taking our lives into our own hands, lol. Considering that characters really ought to be well-rounded, i.e., flawed, I doubt there are many people out there who would appreciate being portrayed in a sometimes negative light.

    I have never based any of my characters on actual people I know. However, I will see qualities or personality quirks or behaviors in people I know and use them to help develop my characters. As long as my characters don’t resemble anyone in real life, then I’m on safe ground. 🙂

  3. Neridah

    Hmm. This has given me something to think about. I suppose I am not alone but have toyed with the idea about writing a book about my life’s experiences. It definately would open a can of worms. Reading this post I think that a good idea would be to gather all the factual information in a sort of diary as I rediscover my past first. Then gp about writing about a fictitional charater drawing upon the info that I end up with. Tricky will have to give it lots of thought.

    • I didn’t want to put anyone off their writing when I wrote this. Some of the best books ever written are memoirs or disguised memoirs and I think that if you have a deep need to tell a story, then you should go ahead and do it – I am already waiting to read it. So get stuck in – you’ll be fabulous.

  4. There is a real Willow in this world, but she’s not a vampire and she hugs people instead of biting them to suck their blood. The real Willow is my muse, just like Will is yours. I’m often using ONE character trait from people I know, but have only ever used two friends as my writing inspiration in a comic way that would make them laugh not make them angry. Otherwise I use traits from people with whom I do not have that much contact anymore or who are acquaintances rather than people close to me. So far nobody has recognised themselves. This is ficational work, of course.

    Writing from experience is a different kettle of fish. Here you should be honest but fair. Without the honesty a memoir becomes meaningless, dead and hard to read. Fairness and a certain amount of objectivity is needed when we describe deeply flawed characters that we come across in our lives. They may be hurt by how we see them – but they are part of our lives, so how could we leave them out or disguise them? That’s not doing them justice either.

    • Truly well said. It is difficult if we see people as flawed who are part of our lives but then totally leaving them out is just as bad as being truthful. It’s never easy being a writer.

      • You bet – and you cannot please all the people all of the time as Mr B Dylan of Minnesota, USA, once said.

      • No you can’t please all the people all the time, in fact, if we try to do that, I reckon we will end up pleasing no-one – not even ourselves.

      • true – watering down a piece of work is never satisfying – Hollywood unfortunately to that all the time with scripts and you can often see the author’s intentions were quite different at the start of the film and then the Hollywood moguls got their say…and well, it ends up being c.r.a.p.

  5. Great post, and proves my point that often people don’t view themselves the way others do and the same goes for the way we view ourselves. When people describe me in a certain way I often scratch my head in bewilderment because that’s not how I imagine myself to be! LOL.
    In the novel I’m working on, I just realised the two main characters bear a striking resemblance to two people I know. What’s scary is that I did this subconsciously. In terms of looks however, I tend to use certain people(close to me/celebrities) as prototypes in my head-it helps with visualization for me 🙂

    • Yes, I’m the same – for instance people really do not cotton on to the fact that I have a really shy side – they always think I am confident. I know exactly what you mean about suddenly realising you have subconsciously put a person’s personality into your book. I have decided that it is hard not too. When you say that you’ve used celebrities for a character’s looks have you done that intentionally or have they just popped up like that? The reason I’m asking is sometimes when I’ve created characters, they look like certain actors and it won’t go away. It’s like they are stuck in my head.

      • Neridah

        It stands to reason, as many actors are cast into simular roles. Then these characters that they often play become entrenched in our minds.

      • You don’t know how much it means to me that you are coming on the blog, Neridah. Yes, you are right about characters played by actors being entrenched in our minds – we often see so much of them. I had a strange happening concerning this but with reading another writer. Raven Dane has a Steampunk character Cyrus Darius. He is the main character in a series of books. There is a photograph of Cyrus on the cover of the book so that we get an idea of what he looks like. The photograph is of a Goth model. Now even though every time I pick the book up I see the photo Cyrus on the front when I start reading Cyrus is played by Benedict Cumberbatch inside my head. Cumberbatch will not go away, it’s like he’s kidnapped that lovely young chap, tied him up, shoved him in a cupboard and taken his place. It’s totally weird. Have you had anything like that?

  6. My book Shop Girl Diaries began as a blog about working in my Mum’s chandelier shop. I never thought it would get published and my customers would be reading what I’d written about them. One woman was absolutely furious. It was horrible. I really should have changed more than her hair colour!

    • I hope you don’t mind but when I read this my hand shot to my mouth and a mixture between a large intake of breath and a laugh erupted. My goodness – what a situation – but what a fantastic story. Good on you. Thanks for sharing that with me, you have made my day.

  7. Pingback: Diary of a Writer – Graveyards. | loonyliterature

  8. Pingback: Writing For Kids – Three Easy Steps to Help Kids Create Characters. « Will Blyton – The Alternative Detective

  9. Appreciate your blog ppost

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