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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

RTW: Formula for Mass Destruction (Or Using Real Life Characters)

Writing Song of the Day: "You Make It Real" by James Morrison

Once again, it's Road Trip Tiiiiiiiime! (We luvs us some Jersey shore *fist pump*). We're going on our weekly trip with our YA Highway sistahs and this week they wanna know:

Who (from real life) have you written into a book?

We honestly think that all writers include someone they've met or someone they know in their writing. We do...BUT, neither of us can say that we have written a character based completely on one person. We usually take a lil' bit of one person's appearance, with another's personality, and a dash of another person's dialogue or catchphrases and roll that all into one character. Need a formula for that? No problem!

1/3 Mystery Person's Appearance + 1/3 New MP's personality + 1/3 New MP's dialogue = an obscure enough character so we won't have to explain to someone why we made them such a bee-yatch in our writing.

Yes, this is a creepy "real life" version of Charlie Brown.
The purpose of this picture?...

The formula above makes it harder for people we know (who might read it some day) to KNOW we're writing them into a story/novel. This keeps the peace.

To answer the MAIN question (since we can't really say WHO), this is what we've done in terms of writing people we know in a manuscript:

*Used a lot of our niece's mannerisms/phrases and general hate for life to shape our YA characters.

*Used names of students/co-workers that seem interesting.

*Used the likeness (i.e. appearance) of co-workers/students/family members/bums on the street.

*Used some character traits (crazy hair; obnoxiously loud voices) based on family & co-workers.

*Used something about students/co-workers that stuck out and based the entire character around it (i.e. an eccentric accent; bright green shoes; skinny jeans etc.).

What about you? How often do the people you meet show up in your writing? And how do you do this smoothly w/out worrying about hurting someone's feelings?

***BTW- Don't forget about our critiquing madness this weeks. We're helping writers with their first lines, click here for Day 1, and here for Day 2. Thanks in advance!***


Alicia Gregoire said...

You're right - everyone does this. And isn't that Charlie Brown frightening???

Sophia said...

I haven't taken anyone wholesale (that would not be a good way to make friends) but I've taken incidents from my own life and put them into my protag's history handled in a way appropriate for the characters involved. Example: her parents' divorce and subsequent dad disappearance is inspired by the same in my life, but the reasons for the divorce/dad disappearance and my protag's reaction are different enough that there shouldn't be any potential readers saying 'that's you and your parents'. I guess this would come under writing what you know.
- Sophia.

Meredith McCardle said...

That Charlie Brown is kind of scaring the crap out of me!

I love the formula. I tend to do the "little of this, little of that" thing too. Adding only minor touches keeps you from getting sued one day. :)

KatOwens: Insect Collector said...

I really like the "bit of this and that" idea.

Tracey Neithercott said...

That Charlie Brown is creeping me out. I do the same thing. I don't write a full person in, but I use their mannerisms or annoying habits.

Erinn said...

The charlie brown is creepy.. I try hard to be sensitive when I use people in my books. If they are based off of real people I try to make it so they are extremely positive to the story.

Abby Stevens said...

That Charlie Brown looks like a fat-headed, small-nosed Dobby! Eeek!

Like you guys, I cherrypick traits for my characters. I'd hate to hurt someone's feelings by including them in a book and them not liking the results, and it could get you into legal trouble.

Unknown said...

dude. Charlie Brown was creepy as a cartoon. In real life???? Horror! And I love that you have a formula! I'll keep that in mind for later :)

Alison Miller said...

That Charlie Brown is FREAKY! But weirdly - I like it.

Yes - agreed. A sprinkling of traits from many people I know.

Jess said...

I use a lot of names from real people, too. I have a couple of characters named after my besties, and working at an apartment complex where lots of foreigners live has given me access to all sorts of really great names.

Also, I LOVE James Morrison. Good song!

Kaitlin Ward said...

Yes, I have done all of these things! Except names. I'm really weird about names. Until my current WIP, I tried to steer clear of names of anyone I knew too well. (I named a character after my sister and one after one of my besties in the current WIP.)