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When Your Best Friend Becomes Your Protagonist

How many fictional characters in novels are based on real people?

I’d guess that it’s a large majority. I’ve never written a novel, so that’s just a hunch. Even if it’s just abstract or on a subconscious level, I think a lot of authors pull from their own experiences with other people when creating characters.

When The Paris Review interviewed E.M. Forster, author of A Passage To India, he said as much.

How much do you admit to modeling your characters on real people?

FORSTER

We all like to pretend we don’t use real people, but one does actually. I used some of my family. Miss Bartlett was my Aunt Emily—they all read the book but they none of them saw it. Uncle Willie turned into Mrs. Failing. He was a bluff and simple character (correcting himself)—bluff without being simple. Miss Lavish was actually a Miss Spender. Mrs. Honeychurch was my grandmother. The three Miss Dickinsons condensed into two Miss Schlegels. Philip Herriton I modeled on Professor Dent. He knew this and took an interest in his own progress. I have used several tourists.

Can you say anything about the process of turning a real person into a fictional one?

FORSTER

A useful trick is to look back upon such a person with half-closed eyes, fully describing certain characteristics. I am left with about two-thirds of a human being and can get to work. A likeness isn’t aimed at, and couldn’t be obtained, because a man’s only himself amid the particular circumstances of his life and not amid other circumstances. So that to refer back to Dent when Philip was in difficulties with Gino, or to ask one and one-half Miss Dickinsons how Helen should comport herself with an illegitimate baby, would have ruined the atmosphere and the book. When all goes well, the original material soon disappears, and a character who belongs to the book and nowhere else emerges.

Here’s how I’m interpreting that.

The inspiration is a real person, probably someone you know, but as you put that person into the book and slowly develop the plot and their character, the original inspiration disappears and that character becomes a “person” in his or her own right.

What do you think? What (or who) inspires the characters in your writing?

(Image: Wikimedia Commons)

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18 Comments Post a comment
  1. Muy bien toda comunicacin con ustedes. Pero yo no entiendo el ingls. Aydenme. Ensenme a buscar una traduccin.Saludos.Teresa

    Date: Tue, 20 Aug 2013 12:30:46 +0000 To: teresac831@hotmail.com

    Like

    August 20, 2013
  2. Very accurate insight 🙂 I find that whenever I write i have a definite person in mind at the beginning that I base my main characters on, but by the time I am done with them I have created a whole new person.

    Like

    August 20, 2013
  3. I agree. Even with a definite person in mind at the start, the character takes on a life of it’s own. He or she wants to be their own person, not a copy of someone else.

    Like

    August 20, 2013
  4. Agreed. In the beginning stages, most characters have some basis in reality. I have a general idea of who to spin them from, but as they let me know who they are, then they form their own personality. It’s one of the more fun parts of writing, I think!

    Like

    August 20, 2013
  5. For my characters, I tend to take a bunch of bits and pieces from people I know, or myself, and mix them up into the character I want. And then there’s a large part that I’m honestly not sure of. Where did it come from? Who cares, it’s good!

    Like

    August 20, 2013
  6. Reblogged this on Vintage Lady and commented:
    Yeah I HAVE ONE.

    Like

    August 20, 2013
  7. I think a fictional character starts from how the real person is and develops in to someone he should have been according to the author’s prejudice.

    Like

    August 20, 2013
  8. Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway was about his experience in the first world war. A soldier is wounded and falls in love with the nurse who takes care of him. This is identical to Hemingway’s real life. I think significant correlations can be found between the main characters of his novels and Hemingway. He seemed to like to put himself in all of his stories.

    Like

    August 20, 2013
  9. Reblogged this on Rosevoc2's Blog.

    Like

    August 20, 2013
  10. i understood you interpretation more than forster. nice 🙂

    Like

    August 21, 2013
  11. Reblogged this on thedipolognon.

    Like

    August 21, 2013
  12. nice

    Like

    August 21, 2013
  13. Reblogged this on Adithya Entertainment.

    Like

    August 21, 2013
  14. In my YA novel The Horrid Frontier, nearly all the teenage characters are based on, to some degree, on students in my classroom. The main character was the only exception because I wanted him to truly be his own person.

    Like

    August 21, 2013
  15. Reblogged this on Angelica's Blog and commented:
    What a great review 🙂

    Like

    August 22, 2013
  16. Reblogged this on Creative Writing School.

    Like

    August 22, 2013
  17. im not a writer but i’d love to be a creative one and that’s the reason behind my blog.. my main character is a friend that i met through pure coincidence, he’s so inspiring and i just cannot stop writing about him. Thanks for the nice article

    Like

    August 23, 2013

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