“Are your characters based on real people?” a close friend asked me this interesting question. Though I denied it at that time, her question got me thinking. The characters we create are purely fictitious and a part of our make believe world, but if we are honest, can we say with conviction that they have no connection with our real life or real people.
As writers we draw inspiration from diverse sources: newspaper articles, movies, T.V serials, and incidents that happen in society. The inspiration for our characters too is derived from real life. People we encounter or interact with, even the ones we just hear about but have never met, subtly influence our character sketches. Maybe we do not add our assorted aunts and uncles into our books, but bits and pieces of them worm their way into our characters: an aunt’s attitude, an uncle’s way of talking or laughing, a cousin’s physique, even a grandparent’s behaviour echoes in the behaviour of the old people we create.
My friend’s question made me search my books and stories for real life inspiration. I was surprised at what it revealed. One of the characters in my current WIP, a snob who looks down her powdered nose at everything is based on one of my aunts ( I am not telling who it is). As a child I was fascinated both by her beauty and snobbishness. It was then natural that the object of my childhood awe crawled her way into my book. Thank god, none of my aunts read, else there would be a war in the family if the person recognizes herself in the story. Or worse still if she demands a percentage of the royalty when the book gets published. The great grandmother in the same WIP is also based on a great aunt whose jolly nature had me in splits throughout childhood.
A character in another book is based on my school teacher who had this habit of throwing pieces of chalk at inattentive students. My bench mate in school, thanks to my constant chatter was hit several times with chalk. Just imagine if this teacher had the habit of throwing the duster (shudder).
We are surrounded by people all the time, this rich source of inspiration is there for us to freely tap into. As long as we don’t reveal who the character is based on, we can safely get inspiration for our characters from real life people. So, don’t you think we should all love our aunts and uncles and probably send them cards and flowers, as they are doing us a huge favour by inspiring us to create unique and quirky characters.
Now tell me honestly, have any of your real life influences crept into your character sketches albeit in a tiny, unsuspecting way. I promise not to sneak. My lips will be sealed.