I Am Not My Character

If you like to write, there will inevitably come a time when people you know in real life read your work. These people might be friends, family, coworkers, or acquaintances. Inevitably, these people might try to project themselves into your work. “Hey, I think Character X is a lot like me. Did you base that character off me?” So you admit, it’s true. You did base Character X off Friend Y, and if this character is a protagonist, they are flattered. But if this character suddenly turns the corner and does something terrible, then you run the risk of getting Friend Y all mad at you. “I would never do something like that! Why did you write that?”

I base characters off people I know all the time. I might borrow a few little things, like the person’s fashion sense or speech habits, or even their name. But I don’t actively think while I’m writing, “Hmm… what would Friend Y do in this situation?” I think something like, “What would Character X do?”

So just because I happen to kill off a character I base off you, it doesn’t mean I hate your guts and that I’m planning to kill you in real life. It means that, for the sake of the story, I had to kill off a character, and the one I chose happened to be the one that had some of your traits. It’s not like I have a personal vendetta against you.

Many times, when I let people I know in real life read what I’ve written, I find that they try too hard to figure out which character is based off them and they overanalyze everything that character does, so they may not be the most objective readers for the story. So that’s why I put my writing on the Internet; I can get a more objective take.

But I think it is a compliment if a writer bases a character off you, even if that character turns out to be evil. In my case, it means that some aspect of a person’s personality or physical appearance inspired me.

Moral of the story: If a writer you know puts a character into a story that reminds you of yourself, be flattered, but do not be offended.



9 thoughts on “I Am Not My Character

  1. I quite agree. I think it is pretty near impossible to not base our characters on people we know. Often those people are characters fro TV and movies, but just as often real people we’ve known for a long time.


    • I can’t base my characters off people on TV and movies… they’re not as inspiring to me. (Plus, I don’t really watch TV or movies.)


      • Two characters in my last story were loosely inspired by comic book characters. I really liked those characters, and then the comics were canceled, and so I borrowed a little bit of them for my own purposes., 🙂


  2. Dorothy Allison spoke at a writer’s conference I attended … she referred to this as “stealing people.” How could we not? My biggest dilemma is dealing with the people who insist that they see a piece of me in the things I write. Yes, it’s true, that many of my stories hide a clue to me, but I don’t want to admit that.


    • I think my stories say a lot about who I am… but if people pick up on that, they don’t say anything about it.


  3. This is one of the most complex and misunderstood aspects of writing. Maybe you have to be a writer to understand it.

    My characters fall into three basic categories, but with many sub-categories (not counting all the stuff that comes from me, of course :-)).

    Some minor characters are based directly on people I know.

    Some major characters started out based on real people, but as you described they quickly diverged from the inspiration. For example, two characters in my first novel are based on the same real person, but the two characters have almost nothing in common.

    Some characters, some of the oldest ones, I have no idea where they came from.


  4. I wish someone would base a character on me and make me do some nasty things. I’d love to be a good baddy! It would be amazing to read about me doing things I would never dare do…


    • I’ve often wondered if anyone has based a character off me, and what kinds of strange things they might have made “me” do. 🙂


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