Fictionalized Characters based on real people

by Julie Hughes
(Las Vegas, NV)

Question: I started writing as soon as I could hold a pencil, in one form or another, and as soon as I realized people LIKED what I wrote, I did so as much as possible, but my characters were never very original. They generally fell into one of three categories:

Fictionalized versions of:
a) Myself or representations of my psyche
b) People I knew
c) Amalgums of one or both of these

This served the purpose of either (a) making me happy as I often (subconsciously, until it was brought to my attention) used the story for the purposes of wish fulfillment, or (b) made others happy through recognition, real or perceived, of themselves in the story. Keeping in mind this was before high school, I would sacrifice good writing to make myself or others happy.

To get to my point, in high school I started writing significantly better and focusing on other areas, but while I learned to avoid making this mistake, I never actual CHANGED my methods of character development; I am now returning to writing after more than 15 years out of practice and I still ALWAYS picture myself as the protagonist and, now, my husband right along with me.

While I don't necessarily see this changing, as the story itself fits, I do want to know if and how it affects character development when a fictional dystopian novel is written with characters BASED on real people. There will be other characters ALSO based on real people as well, at least one major character besides us, though others will likely be composite characters (based on real people) as well.

Any advice you could offer would be greatly appreciated. The website has been a huge help already. Thank you so much!

Answer: Yours is a perfectly valid approach to creating characters. If you want to vary them a little, so it doesn't feel like you're writing about the same person all the time, consider trying these approaches...

1. If your main character's personality is based on you, make her a slightly different version of yourself. Make her you IF you had different experiences, or different circumstances when you were younger, or if you had somewhat different aptitudes or weaknesses, etc. In this dystopian world, might there be a lot more trauma that has affected people? Are they damaged versions of the people you know?

2. Consider pouring a personality type you know into a different physical form. For instance, what would your husband be like if he had been born in a different nationality or ethnic group? What if his body was healthier/less healthy, more/less attractive, stronger/weaker, etc. Consider how such factors might have changed how other people treated him and how that might have affected his self-image.

3. Consider varying the ages. For instance, take someone you know who's 30. What might they have been like at 15 when they were more inexperienced and hadn't proven themselves? What might they be like at 60 when they're older and wiser? Or at 45 when they're having their mid-life crisis? Different ages bring different concerns and issues that can affect how people behave.

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