Finding inspiration: Developing characters based on people you know (but doing so secretly)

This is a post by Marie Borthwick

Welcome to a week-long theme week on the Novel Publicity blog during which we’ll cover a series of four posts about finding inspiration. Let’s go deeper with another character development exercise.

When looking for inspiration, you should never be afraid to use what you know. Our friends, family, co-workers, neighbors and acquaintances are what we know… so we should use them. That said, there can be inherent dangers (I first blogged about this in my post “That Relative”) in using the people we know, even if we don’t ever admit they were inspiration for our work (a great example of this is Kathryn Stockett and her best seller “The Help”.) Still, with a little care you can use the people you know and they will likely be none the wiser (unless you open your big mouth *wink, wink*). There are a few ways you can take advantage of the wealth of characters in your life:

Option 1: Using a piece of paper, write the name of a person you are considering using for inspiration. Without thinking, write all the words that come to mind when you think of the person. Later you can expand on these “words” by writing longer descriptions.

Option 2: Draw a line down the middle, at the top of the left column write “good” at the top of the right column write “bad.” In the left/”good” column, write all the things that you like about the person. In the right/”bad” column write all the things you don’t like about the person.

Option 3: Write out your experiences, good and bad, with the person.

Option 4: Create a bio. Write down the particulars about the person you are using – physical appearance, personal history, job experience, education, likes/dislikes, etc

Option 5: Use a picture. Take a picture of the person and write a description based on that picture.

The key when using the people you know is to use only parts of them. Take your dad’s gruff attitude, pair it with your mom’s love of Care Bears, and ta-dah! You have a unique character people will talk about. Okay, so that was a bad example, but I’m sure you get my drift right?

Depending on the mood, you can use several of the examples I give for using the people you know – and even combine them! You’re a writer, a creative person, remember? Don’t let anyone tell you differently!

marieprofileMarie has depended on books all her life – for entertainment, for emotional support, and for escape. She enjoys writing on her blog, Write Panic Live, where she shares the high, lows and in-betweens of living with mental illness, her path to becoming a published writer, and all the books she reads along the way. In addition to working on her current WIP, “Route 6”, she has started developing a business to share her love of crafted items, a charity she hopes will spread the hobby of knitting/crocheting to those in need, and has begun taking on developing two series of children’s books to promote social awareness.


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