You’ve probably heard this from
many authors: base your characters off people you know. A lot of writers do
that, including big ones like J.K. Rowling. However, unlike them, I never base
characters off people I know.
That being said, I do often develop
them like people I know. Many characters in my books were developed like family
members and people I went to school with, including teachers.
However, the ideas of those
characters were often for plot convenience or inspired by other fictional
sources, such as movies, books, or even legends. In fact, the antagonist in my second
book of the “Magical Missions” series was inspired by the Grim Reaper. Believe
it or not, in early drafts, he was more like the death figure: pure evil and
carrying a scythe. But now he is not like that. I developed him to make the
readers sympathize with him more. I won’t spoil anything else from the story,
Why don’t I base characters off
people I know, you might ask? Because I just feel uninterested and find basing my
characters off of other fictional sources better. My life has been pretty
straightforward and ordinary. While I’m more social than I used to be, real
people inspiring me for characters just doesn’t happen.
Many authors base their characters off of people they know.
A high percent of people also base their stories off of real-life experiences.
However, I am different. I rarely or never do any of those things.
One: I find my life experiences too ordinary and
straightforward. Two: I find it more exciting to make them very different from
For example, the MC of my novels is Irish Catholic, blonde,
and has had a tragic life. I am Indian and Hindu, dark-haired, and has lived a
typical life with hardly any tragedies. I lost my paternal grandpa when I was 2,
so I don’t remember him. My maternal grandpa died when I was 22 but I didn’t
cry. I only experienced shocking pain for a few hours. That’s really it for the
sad moments in my life.
I could explain my MC’s tragic life. But that is within the
novels. You can find them through reviews, excerpts, or if you choose to
purchase the books.
Anyway, I find varying and differentiating things far more
fun than making them like me. After all, the world would be a boring place if
we all thought the same things, even if that meant little to no conflicts. I
could be wrong, though.
Differentiating characters from myself also opens more room for
growing knowledge, even if that means extra research. If I wrote about Hindu
characters, I probably would not have to do as much research. But I would also
get bored. And if it’s boring to write, it’s usually boring to read.
While I rarely make characters similar to myself, I never
base them off people I know. But that will be for another post. That being
said, I do give some similarities occasionally, such as food tastes. Overall,
though, I differ from other writers.
Ah, characters: you’ve got to love or hate them—or have some
opinion on them. They also shouldn’t be perfect. The hero should do wrong
things and get disliked at times and the villain should get liked at times.
However, this is super-difficult—at least for me it is. I
have a tendency to protect my main character in my novels. I like her a lot. I
feel sorry for her. And because of those, I tend to make her hardly flawed. At
most, she may do a few wrong things
and at milder levels. The worst she has done in my book series was unauthorized
filming and lying about not doing it. That’s actually a serious offense.
Anyway, I’m probably not the only writer who has trouble making certain characters flawed. Of course, there are characters who are unfriendly, but not evil. And obviously, there is conflict in my stories. But I think I know why I have difficulty getting my protagonist to misbehave.
One: it wasn’t until the plot of my first book’s first
edition was nearly complete when I found out that protagonists should behave
badly or do wrong things. When rewriting my first book after removing it from
the market, I couldn’t make my main character more flawed as the major elements
had already been established. Two: I have recently become very uncomfortable
around conflict. Not just in real life, but also in fiction. Yes, I have
stopped certain books and movies because I loathed how the characters were being
treated. Now while writing my third book, I have no plans to make my MC do
really bad things. Yes, she won’t be perfect. In fact, she will have trouble controlling
her emotions. But I will stop there on that.
Writers fall in love with their heroes. They become attached
to them. So they may have trouble making them behave badly. However, someone
told me that the best books have characters who misbehave a lot.
Now if you’re creating children’s stories, there are limits
to how badly the characters can act. Of course, it would be acceptable (and would
probably engage readers) if the protagonists started food fights at school, got
sent to the principals’ offices, and were punished by their parents. However,
you could not have them do something that would be inappropriate. Not just
drugs or drinking, but also activities that could lead to death or serious
injuries. Otherwise, parents won’t want their kids reading your books.
Do you notice that lack of perfectly behaved characters in
fiction? Most likely. And that’s because people want flawed characters. In
fact, sometimes that’s essential to the storylines.
I’ll give a few examples from Disney movies. In The Lion King, when Simba talks to Scar about that shadowed area that his father forbade him to go, Scar says that only the bravest lions would enter. “Brave” is the big, main keyword. That was what encouraged Simba to check it out, and, of course, that led to conflict crucial for the plot. If Scar had said that only the dumbest lions would go there, Simba might not have gone because he wouldn’t have said, “Well, I’m dumb.” He was in too good of a mood to say such a thing. And then, there would have been a lot less conflict. And without enough conflict, the story would’ve been dull, and the film would’ve drastically failed—or maybe not have even been green-lit.
In Beauty and the Beast,
after the beast releases Belle from the dungeon tower, he leads her up to her
new room and says that she can go anywhere, except the forbidden west wing. Later
Belle is curious about the west wing and enters it, discovering the enchanted
rose and the portrait of the beast when he was a person. The beast catches her
and forces her out.
At the end, when the beast transforms back into a human,
Belle recognizes him from the painting. Then they live happily ever after.
If Belle had listened to the beast, or the beast had not
prohibited her from going to the west wing, then the ending might’ve resulted
in the prince re-explaining how he’d become a beast. Or—he might not have
changed into a better character. Therefore, Belle wouldn’t loved him, and he
would’ve failed to break the spell he and the servants had gone under.
So there you have it. Notice the pattern in both examples? Let
that help you.
Characters come in all shapes, sizes, personalities, and
much more. So do the ways they are developed.
Many writers base their characters of real people they know.
They also develop them like the folks they know.
Want to know how I develop my characters? Yes? All right.
Here I go. I often develop them as I develop my storylines. I get to know them as
I draft. I unconsciously develop them through other story elements too, like
dialogue and actions.
Now these are not the only ways I develop my characters. Sometimes
I plan their personalities, even if the characters don’t make it to the final
drafts. I also might base them off other fictional characters from other franchises,
sometimes myths and legends. For example, in one of my works, there’s a
character inspired by the Grim Reaper.
Unlike many authors, I never really base characters off
people I know. However, I do often develop
them like those in my lives. This was especially common in my earlier works,
when I was still learning how to develop my characters. I developed a couple
like my cousins at that time and one like my brother back then.
Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all way to developing
characters. It is, however, important to make your characters believable, round
rather than flat, crucial to your story, imperfect (they should have at least
some flaws), and change at the end of your tale. This is especially essential
for you main or major characters.
This technique also takes a while to learn. It took me,
like, seven years to discover my writing voice. A similar amount of time might happen
for you if you’re new to creative writing.
If you search for me on Amazon, you’ll see that I have published
five books, but only one is for sale. That is because the others weren’t
exactly the strongest. Except for one, I did pretest the others to make sure
they were good enough to please strangers. They were. But I felt the novels
could’ve been better.
So hang tight as you learn to develop your characters. If you
need assistance, there are character development worksheets you can find online
and use to answer questions about your characters. Sometimes I’ve interviewed
my characters, answered questionaires about them, or even wrote short stories
from their points-of-view. This might help you. Something will.