Monday, 10 June 2013

TCWT, June 2013: This Time It's Personal

I'm alive! I think. Well, I was the last I looked. Contrary to my expectations, my hand did not melt into the foreseen puddle of ink and agony, I did not rip out all my hair in frustration, and not all of my brain managed to turn itself to porridge and dribble out of my ears. We shall have to see if those parts that were lost to this impersonation of sloppy oatmeal were particularly vital to my blogging skills.

And now for something completely different!
“How have both the people in your life and your own personal experiences impacted your writing? Do you ever base characters off of people you know?”

Nice short answer: No.

Not-so-nice long answer: No. And here's why.

First of all, the matter of experience. I'm lucky in that, in my eighteen years of life, I have been treated to an incredibly broad spectrum of ideas, places, and experiences. However, I never use experiences directly. Why? Because those aren't the sorts of stories I write, on the whole. Sure, I've drawn heavily on my time in boarding school for a lot of the shenanigans in St Mallory's Forever!, but none of the experiences in the book are direct parallels to anything that happened to me (aside from one single reference to something so absurd you probably wouldn't believe it to be true anyway).

That said, although I don't use the physical experiences, I do draw on the emotional experience. That, I think, is inavoiable for any author - even if they are writing about a tribe of pygmy werewolves trapped in a time vortex because of a faulty toaster. Nevertheless, I'm always careful to tailor the emotional experience closely to the event, the circumstance, and the nature of the characters involved. Given that very few of my characters bear much close resemblance to me in any way, the experience is much less an extrapolation of personal experience, and more a noumenal pick-'n'-mix of thought process and reaction.

Make sense? No? Don't worry - it doesn't to me, sometimes, either.

Luckily, in the matter of basing characters on people I know, my answer is much more emphatic. It may depend on circumstance, but I do make a point of avoiding use of real-life people or relationships in my stories. Admittedly, St Mallory's Forever! bucks the trend somewhat, because of some use of stereotypical archetypes (mostly for comic effect, sometimes as a snarky homage to the misrepresentation of boarding school environments on the whole), but none of the characters are direct or complete parrallels to anyone I know.

Why do this, you ask? Because I don't write stories for myself.

Writing, for me, has always been more of an outwardly-focussed creative process than a personal one. There is a personal element in my enjoyment of it, certainly, but mostly I write with the aim of creating something for the enjoyment of others. With that in mind, I don't want people to read things because they are hoping or fearing that they have made a cameo that ended in them being eviscerated by the villain's pack of slobbering zombie assassins.

Similarly, I do not write characters of this sort because it would change the way I interact with them. When creating characters, I want them, essentially, to be people in their own right so that I, and by extension the reader, to bond with them as such. If I have a predetermined relationship with the person on whom I have based that character, that dynamic will become much more difficult, and I may find myself somewhat restricted in the things I am willing to do to and with this character, possibly to the detriment of the story. 

You may think it sounds silly, but it's true. I even avoid naming major characters after people I know to escape this predetermination of my relationship with them. That's just major characters, though. I'm too lazy to go hunting for new names for everyone - especially if they're doomed to wear the proverbial red shirt that marks them out as victims of my infamous literary killing sprees.

And now I risk donning the helmet of hypocrisy by saying that, while I make a point of not basing characters on people I know, I'm more than happy to raid the history books and snaffle traits galore from the mad, bad and downright preposterous persons found lurking between the pages. Notable victims of partial identity theft include George Gordon (Lord Byron), Gore Vidal, Cardinal Richelieu, Elizabeth I, Catherine de Medici and even Oscar Wilde. Here, I get the best of both worlds - incredibly vibrant personalities and life stories to draw inspiration from, without the disadvantage of immediate emotive involvement or attachment to alter my dealings with the characters who inherit these traits.

When I'm not doing that, I might even be defying myself further by wielding the sharp and pointy blade of close analysis and ramshackle psychological study honed by years of English Literature classes. How? Read this old chestnut, which I found lurking in the depths of my blog long ago, and find out.

What about you, readers? Do YOU base any of the events or characters in your stories on your own life experience, or people around you? Leave a comment and let me know. And don't forget to go and check out other awesome contributors to the blog chain, too. Their answers are bound to be far less self-contradictory than mine.

~ Charley R
26th – (We’ll be announcing the topic for next month’s chain.)


  1. I'm too scared to base anything off other people I know! I can just imagine, "You thought I was the villain?" "No, not the villain. She's not a villain. She's just an unpleasant person." "You think I'm unpleasant?" Yeah... that could be awkward. ;)

    1. Ehehehe, I can see that angle too! I just tend not to care. Everyone who knows I write knows how evil I am.

  2. Okay, 'fess up. I want to know what shenanigan was real from St. Mallory's. ;) That's an awesome book, by the way (I'm totally buttering you up. But it's the TRUTH too...)
    Well, I can't answer this question, because I'm in the chain too. (Must write that post. Intelligently, which is against my nature.) I tell Mime I base my villains off her sometimes....but that's kind of mean. I wouldn't do that, now, would I?

    1. Wouldn't you? I though that was what little siblings were for! ;)

      As for St Mall's . . . send me an email and I'll give you the FULL run-down, eh?

  3. Yay, I'm glad someone else steals from the history books! :)

    1. That I do, and I'm glad to see I'm not alone either! :D

  4. I adore your examples, Charley. The toaster? Oh wow.

    And I completely agree about the predetermination of characters! I said the same in my post on the 5th! xD It makes total sense to me. ;)

    -- Amanda

    1. Haha, thank you!

      Wow, did you? I shall have to go back and read that - I haven't had any time to do that yet, but I shall try to make some very soon. I feel i am missing out horribly on an awful lot of good things!

  5. I don't like my characters having the same name as people I know, but I generally avoid this by writing stuff inspired by Celtic mythology, given that I don't tend to know many people with Irish names. (Declan, Fergal, Cormac, Aifa ... and that's just a few of them.)

    Sometimes minor characters are named after people (Karl, as it was NaNoWriMo and I was stuck; Lenna's not a minor character but I stole the name from someone I didn't know very well). But with the exception of Alex, none of them are.

    Alex is different. For me, if you say the name then instantly I think of it as my character, even if I'm sitting next to a genuine human being called Alex. It's been his so long that he's stuck with it, and will stay stuck with it.

    In terms of being influenced in personality, though, I wrote a post about this, obviously, but I do sometimes find my characters resemble OTHER characters more than they do real people. (coughEnjolrascough)

    1. Ehehehe, yes, I remember your post - much more coherent and interesting than mine, I say! - but I think you do make a point here. When a character kind of invades a name, even if you don't particularly like it on them, they are stuck with it. Because you cannot think of them as anything else.