Many writers have gained inspiration from people they
know or have met. The reason behind this is that
characters are never more effective and more lifelike as
those that are actually based on real people. In the
past this was not a problem because even if the real
individuals did not like how they were portrayed, there
was little they could do about it. However, now you hear
about various ongoing lawsuits brought before the courts
purely and simply because the claimants felt their
portrayal was less than flattering. They claim mental
damage as a result and, if they can prove that the
character in question was based on them, can win an
awful lot of money in costs and compensation from you.
There are ways and means around this outcome, of course, but the moral of the story is that you do have to be careful if you want to avoid this sort of lawsuit being brought against you. However, that is not to say there is anything wrong with using people you know to form the basis of characters. It can be an extremely effective way of building your characters up because it gives you a measure of depth that is essential before you even start. It actually makes the initiation of a novel much easier!
One of the most common problems associated with the development of characters in any give story, novel or screenplay is that they are flat and do not have any life to them. This does not make characters believable in the slightest. However, by drawing inspiration from elsewhere, you can avoid this problem completely. The way you perceive your friends will reflect in the text and either give the narrative a warmth that cannot be found if you do not really care about these characters. Similarly, your enemies are your enemies for a reason, and the way you perceive them in real life will translate itself onto the page. This will ensure your tale is gripping from start to finish and your characters are infinitely believable!
The following steps represent ideas you can take to effectively use your friends, family and enemies in your books, as such, without actually earning yourself a lawsuit!
1. Brainstorm your characters in advance. Brainstorming your characters will enable you to make them individuals and also cut out certain personality traits of the individuals they are based on. If you only use the real life subjects as a basis then this should not be too much of a problem. Select the basic traits you wish to use in a character and add to them with other traits and a quick text expansion on how you will use them. Small things like altering the age and gender of the character in question will also help disguise the fact that you are using friends, family and enemies as guidelines for your characters. These simple touches can infinitely help to protect you so use them to their fullest extent.
2. Do not choose names that are even remotely related to the names of the real life subjects you are using. This is a common problem encountered by authors because they neglect to distinguish the characters from their real life counterparts in name! If you think about it, this one stupid mistake can cost you a lot. Instead of turning your Aunt Molly into Aunt Polly, make her your mother's best friend Claire. This may sound ridiculous to a deep thinking author because you would still be able to tell who that character is based on, but to the outsider looking in, it will not be so obvious and may well be missed by those that matter!
3. Try combining character traits of individuals you know. Taking your best friend and your sister and combining elements of their characters will make a distinct separation between them in real life and on paper. The two individuals you choose do not need to be similar in terms of personality and looks, but combining the two will make a believable character that does not directly resemble either, thus allowing you to get away with it! Combining two enemies is just as effective and may actually make that character seem worse on paper as well, thus enhancing the character.
4. Look into your past and draw on people you used to know. This is an easy option. People you used to know but are no longer in contact with you probably would not draw the distinction between themselves and your narrative as long as you do not draw on common situations you have experienced. This is a tell tale sign and should be avoided.
5. Ask permission if the character is overtly and obviously a member of your family or circle of friends. If you do need to represent a character so he or she resembles a friend or family member accurately then be sure to ask permission. It may also be necessary for the person to sign something, but this would come after the next step.
6. Ask the people you have based characters on to read your first draft. If you do this then you have their consent to publish if and when you get a deal, so long as they do not voice objections to anything written about the character based on them. After they give you their consent to represent them in such a way, get them to sign a waiver just in case they do change their mind at a later date. Adhering to all of the above will get you to this stage, but then make sure you are fully protected in case of future changes of heart!
Shery is the creator of WriteSparks!(tm), a software that generates over 10 million story ideas for writers. She has also ghostwritten thousands of articles for clients. You can too with the help of this article writing software.
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