(This is a post I wrote for a guest visit on another blog in April 2012. After spending the week taking care of a sick kitten, I'm afraid I didn't have time to write a new post.)
I was recently asked if I ever use real people as characters in my books. My knee-jerk answer was, “No. Never.” Then I started thinking about it. Do I use real people as models for some of the characters I’ve written? No, I assured myself. I don’t do that. I will admit I’ve taken a trait here, a quirk there, or a bad habit and wove them into a character. But to model a character completely after someone I knew, never.
Then I started looking over previous manuscripts I’d written. Oh my. There on page 6 of my debut novel, Impetuous, was “Person P” in all her glory. As I flipped through the pages looking for more scenes with the Duchess of Perth, I realized I had indeed written about someone I knew. Not just someone I knew, but someone I was related to. She is so like the character who insists on controlling her daughter and everyone around her, so disapproving, so…so mean spirited that to this day she doesn’t know I’ve been published because I don’t want to be a target for her maliciousness.
My heart pounding in my chest, I called a friend who writes mysteries. “Oh my goodness, what do I do if she ever reads the book?” I asked. “What if she thinks it’s her? How am I going to explain that?”
My friend talked me down by saying three very smart things:
1.) “What are the odds your relative will read your book?” Ok, the answer to that is slim to none. Mainly because I don’t think she’s much of a reader and she doesn’t associate with my family all that much.
2.) “People seldom recognize themselves as the flawed character. So even if she does read the book she won’t see herself in the duchess.”
3.) “If she does question you about it. Lie. How will she know?”
Finally, my friend told me not to worry about it and that she has killed her ex-husband many times over in a number of the books she’s written. He doesn’t know and she enjoys killing him without having to go to jail.
My panic attack over, I thanked her for her sage advice and hung up the phone just as my nephew stopped by for a visit. Vowing to be more careful about the modeling of my characters in the future, I gestured for my nephew to take a seat while I gathered up my writing notes etc.
He handed me a pad of paper I’d scribbled a few lines of dialog on and said, “Hey, can I be in one of your books?
Given the vow I made moments ago, I started laughing. He looked at me like I’d lost my mind. Once I got myself under control, I told him I’d decided not to put people I knew in my books in case they didn’t like how they were portrayed. He nodded in agreement like the wise 22 year old he is and said, “That makes sense,” but seemed disappointed.
Maybe some people wouldn’t mind being portrayed as character in a book, but I’d rather not find out. How about you? Would you like to be portrayed in a novel? If you're a writer, have you ever, consciously or subconsciously, modeled a character so completely after a person you knew?