What do you owe the real people upon whom you base your characters?
I may (or may not—I admit to nothing) base a character on someone I respect or despise, so I will have to be salty and sweet with the response to this week’s OpenBook blog hop post. Let’s start with the people I like.
I reflected on the Prophet (Muhammad’s) life and how he was as a husband … lover … someone out in the community and how he transitioned between those things. What he did when his women were mad at him, and what he did when his women were acting out. [The brothers in law] don’t act exactly like the Prophet, but there are characteristics each one of them has.
Simon is the one who keeps things at a level where it doesn’t get too bad. He doesn’t allow things to get to him as much. Marcus is the alpha, alpha. He’s the leader. He expects things to happen the way he needs for them to happen because he’s progressing the nation. Adam is that inner reflection.
My reverence for the Prophet Muhammad led to me giving my characteristics reflecting the ideals of masculinity and humanness this noble figure embodied. It is only natural considering how much his sayings and life examples guide me. Infusing some qualities of people admire is natural for authors. They could include historical figures or someone they know and have a relationship.
I named and based the character Alice, Simon’s mother in My Way to You on my mother-in-law. I wanted to show a tense relationship between Regina and her, reflecting some strains we initially faced. There are dynamic characteristics that my husband’s mother has that Alice the character doesn’t share and vice versa. They are not mirror-images of each other. That shouldn’t happen unless a writer really wants to stick it to someone.
Character development can be complex and involve a lot of layers. A fiction author may look at a real person for inspiration, but rarely will they construct a character solely based on an individual. First, who wants all the drama and have to deal with a bunch of chagrin, hurt feelings and indignation from the person who recognizes themselves? Second, if the author bases a character on someone they dislike, why center them? Third, making a literary doppelganger of a person exhibits some hella lazy writing. Finally, unless an author is writing a semi-autobiographical work or biography, the character created probably won’t stand for being restricted and develop characteristics and an arc that diverges from the person upon whom a writer bases them.
I have written in previous blog posts how characters take on lives of their own. I wrote about characters spitting back names I selected and demanding to have more voice and perspective in a story. Thus, even if a character reflects a real person (I still admit to nothing), it won’t be an exact replica. The author will use their writing skills and imagination to create a unique literary entity. They are my characters—my people—stomping around in my head until I put them on pages and share them.
It takes a lot of time and energy to create and refine each, and I don’t owe anybody a damn thing for their existence in my mind, on the pages of a book, or in the imaginations of readers. Anyone expecting something needs to get a grip and have a seat. Here, I have a few for them.