Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Katherine Grey Considers Characters Inspired by Real Life People

Please welcome the talented, Katherine Grey, to the blog as she discusses a very tricky, but oh-so-common, writer dilemma. Also, check out her fabulous book, Impetuous. You can find the blurb, excerpt, and buylinks after the post.

Hey, is that me?
I was recently asked if I ever use real people as characters in my books.  My knee-jerk answer was, “No. Never.”  Then I started thinking about it. Do I use real people as models for some of the characters I’ve written?  No, I assured myself. I don’t do that.  I will admit I’ve taken a trait here, a quirk there, or a bad habit and wove them into a character.  But to model a character completely after someone I knew, never.

Then I started looking over previous manuscripts I’d written.  Oh my.  There on page 6 of my debut novel, Impetuous, was “Person P” in all her glory.  As I flipped through the pages looking for more scenes with the Duchess of Perth, I realized I had indeed written about someone I knew.  Not just someone I knew, but someone I was related to.  She is so like the character who insists on controlling her daughter and everyone around her, so disapproving, so…so mean spirited that to this day she doesn’t know I’ve been published because I don’t want to be a target for her maliciousness.

My heart pounding in my chest, I called a friend who writes mysteries.  “Oh my goodness, what do I do if she ever reads the book?” I asked.  “What if she thinks it’s her?  How am I going to explain that?”

My friend talked me down by saying three very smart things:
  1.) “What are the odds your relative will read your book?”  Ok, the answer to that is slim to none.  Mainly because I don’t think she’s much of a reader and she doesn’t associate with my family all that much. 
  2.)  “People seldom recognize themselves as the flawed character.  So even if she does read the book she won’t see herself in the duchess.”
  3.)  “If she does question you about it.  Lie.  How will she know?” 

Finally, my friend told me not to worry about it and that she has killed her ex-husband many times over in a number of the books she’s written. He doesn’t know and she enjoys killing him without having to go to jail.

My panic attack over, I thanked her for her sage advice and hung up the phone just as my nephew stopped by for a visit.  Vowing to be more careful about the modeling of my characters in the future, I gestured for my nephew to take a seat while I gathered up my writing notes etc. 

He handed me a pad of paper I’d scribbled a few lines of dialog on and said, “Hey, can I be in one of your books?

Given the vow I made moments ago, I started laughing.  He looked at me like I’d lost my mind.  Once I got myself under control, I told him I’d decided not to put people I knew in my books in case they didn’t like how they were portrayed.  He nodded in agreement like the wise 22 year old he is and said, “That makes sense,” but seemed disappointed. 

Maybe some people wouldn’t mind being portrayed as character in a book, but I’d rather not find out.  How about you?  Have you ever, consciously or subconsciously, modeled a character so completely after a person you knew?


Mateo de Montayas, an impoverished Spanish count, comes to England to recover a stolen family heirloom and to satisfy his hunger for revenge against the man who destroyed his family. Arriving in London, he learns his hated enemy died three years before but has left behind a daughter. What better way to retrieve the heirloom and exact revenge than to use her to his advantage?

Teresa Darlington will do anything to keep scandal away from her frail mother and prove her father wasn't a thief, even risk her reputation in a race to find the missing heirloom before the Count does. But she didn't count on falling in love with the man determined to ruin her family. Can she find the heirloom before he does and protect her family, or will her heart lead her in a different direction?



Teresa was saved from responding by Lady Sarah’s entrance. Dressed in a blue gown that matched her eyes, she swept into the room, dropped a kiss on her mother’s cheek, and headed for the sideboard.

“Mmm. Everything smells wonderful. I’m absolutely famished this morning.” She filled a cup with the steaming chocolate. “Our trip into the country yesterday must be the cause. Wasn’t the day wonderful?”

“Sarah,” the duchess said in a warning tone.

“Yes, Mother.”

“What have I told you about your manner of speech?”

Sarah’s sunny disposition disappeared as though a cloud suddenly passed over her. She gave Teresa a quick glance and swallowed. “A lady of my station doesn’t chatter on like some hen-witted commoner.”

Teresa sighed into her cup. She longed to come to her cousin’s defense but knew the duchess would repay her insolence by tormenting Mama. She gave the younger girl a commiserating smile.

Sarah helped herself to eggs, toast, and bacon. She stiffened at the sound of her mother clearing her throat. She set the plate down as if it might shatter at any moment.

“A large appetite is a sign of ill breeding,” she recited. “A lady eats like a bird so she may weigh no more than a butterfly.” With one last look of longing, Sarah placed a slice of toast on a clean dish and took her seat at the table.

At the sight of Sarah’s down-bent head, Teresa itched to point out that Vivian’s own plate overflowed with food. She clenched her teeth until her jaw ached, barely managing to keep a strangle hold on her temper.

The duchess slit open the first invitation of those deemed important enough to be considered.

“How interesting. Lord Pendleton is having a rout in honour of a foreign guest—a Count de Montayas of Spain. We shall have to attend.” She laid the sheet aside and continued on to the next.

“But Mother, you hate the Spanish. You said we should let Napoleon have them,” Sarah said in a barely audible voice.

“So I did. Some things have to be tolerated to get what you want from life. This event could be very advantageous for you.”

“Lord Pendleton is old enough to be my father,” Sarah cried, near tears. “I don’t wish to become betrothed to him.”

Vivian looked up from the paper in her hand. “You will marry whom I choose. Do not worry yourself. It will give you wrinkles and who would want you then?
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christine warner said...

I haven't modeled a character completely after one person...I take bits and pieces to build my character. A quirk, habit, look, gesture...but never the entire person.

LOL...fun post! Glad your friend talked you down :)

Kathryn Knight said...

Fun topic! Like the above poster, I don't model characters after a specific person, but I do take ideas or traits from real life - it's hard not to if you want a character to feel authentic. Unfortunately sometimes that adds up to building a character who now seems a lot like an actual person you DO know, and then I worry that person will think I'm writing about them!

Kathryn Knight
Passionate Romance with a Paranormal Twist
Silver Lake, available 9/14/2012 from The Wild Rose Press

Cherie Marks said...

So glad you're here today, Katherine.

Katherine said...

Christine, I can't tell you how panicked I felt when I realized what I'd done. The funny thing was I'd never even thought about it until I was asked if I had used someone I knew as a character. One thing for certain, I'm much more careful when doing my character sketches. LOL.

Katherine said...

Hi Kathryn, That was exactly my thought once I realized how closely the duchess resembled my relative. Now I'm much more careful about what traits etc I borrow from living people, so I guess it was a good learning experience. Thanks for stopping by. :o)

Katherine said...

Hi Cherie, Thanks for the opportunity to be your guest. :o)

Janie Emaus said...

I use bits and pieces of people I know.

Karyn Good said...

I can't say as I've ever modeled a character after someone I know. I do sometimes toy with the idea of writing a story about a book club, and then I think, NO. It would be impossible to separate the personalities from my real life book club from my fictional one. Or it might be impossible for my fellow book clubbers to separate themselves my fictional characters. Either way, it would be a disaster!

Impetuous sounds like a wonderful story!

Kellie Kamryn said...

I don't think I've consciously taken a person and fashioned a character after them. Certainly traits or quirks of people I know but I do not believe an entire person. I've even used traits of myself or of what I used to be like in a character.

The book sounds great! Wishing you lots of sales :)

Katherine said...

Hi Janie, Isn't it fun to take the parts we admire from people we know and mix them together to create an entirely new person/character? Thanks for stopping by. :o)

Katherine said...

Hi Karyn, Isn't it funny that some people would recognize themselves if you wrote about them? I've often wondered if a person would think that about a villain. Guess if my relative ever questions me about the duchess I'll have my answer. LOL.

Katherine said...

Hi Kellie, thanks for the good wishes. I've used things about myself in my characters too. I even wrote about an incident involving a spider that happened to me but transferred the experience to the heroine. :o)

Sandra Dailey said...

Hi Katherine! I was wondering, could your duchess relative also be my former step-mother? What a coincidence!
I tend to base my characters on TV and movie personalities. I know, weird, right?

Taryn Raye said...

I use bits and pieces of people I know, too, but blended with other characteristics, I usually just hope that the characters are alike yet dissimilar enough that it flies under the radar. I never intentionally write a straight-up copy of anyone I know though.

Love the excerpt!

Hallee Bridgeman said...

I've gone into a character intending to model after someone, but the character takes over and becomes an individual. Sometimes I'm annoyed by that, but sometimes it's fun to see something completely different from my original intent come forward.


Katherine said...

Hi Sandra, I hate to think there are two people that mean spirited out there in the world, but I'm sure there are a lot more than that. I like the idea of modeling characters after TV and movie personalities. I'd love to write a character like Rick Castle from Castle.

Katherine said...

Hi Taryn, I'm sure hoping that if my relative happens to pick up a copy of Impetuous, it flies under the radar. LOL. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't write a character that was completely based on someone I knew, well not intentionally anyway since that's what happened with my relative and the duchess. Thanks for dropping by. :o)

Katherine said...

Hi Hallee, Don't you love it when your characters take over and tell you their likes and dislikes etc? I had written a character sketch for a character who was highly intelligent but for various reasons downplayed her intelligence. Once I started writing the story, she refused to play the dumb blonde (okay, she was a brunette but I'm sure you know what I mean.) I even liked writing her scenes better once I let her have her way. Sometimes our characters know better. :o)

Melissa Fox said...

Using your own experiences with people, places, and events can enrich the story, but yes, characters tend to take those basics and end up having their own ideas! Enjoyed the excerpt. :)

Amy said...

I find I put "traits" from real people in my characters, but I've never done an entire character based on a real person! It's hard not to draw a "little" on the people we know!

Elke Feuer said...

I've never used everything about someone for a character, but I've definately used something about them, be it looks or characteristics. I love to observe people and how they interact (I think most writers do) and things about the people we know tend to stick around in our characters, sometimes whether we want them to or not. :-)

All the best with your book, Katherine!

Katherine said...

Hi Melissa, I'm glad you enjoyed the excerpt. I thought it was pretty appropriate given the subject matter. Thanks for stopping by. :o)

Katherine said...

Hi Amy, I agree it is hard not to draw from the people we know especially when there's something about them that stands out in our mind about them. I just hope I don't get quite so close to reality again. LOL.

Katherine said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Katherine said...

Hi Elke, Thank you for the good wishes. Most writers I know are very observant. I'm the exact opposite. It's a joke in my family that I'm so wrapped up with the characters in my head, that it'll be days before I notice someone had their hair cut or changed the furniture around. I haven't decided if that's a good thing or not yet. :o)

Cherie Marks said...

Wow! Can I just say, what an amazing group of commentors. I'm impressed Katherine. You definitely hit a chord with this group. It was lovely to have you on my blog today. Hope you had a good time.

Katherine said...

Thanks, Cherie. It was fun to learn how other people model their characters. I had a great time. :o)

Sarah said...

Thanks, Cherie, for having Katherine Grey write this post. I have a handful of characters who are based on the quirks of people I met online and wanted to make sure that I wasn't committing libel. ^^; Call me overly paranoid. I feel better knowing that other writers use the tiniest quirks (say, for example, a love for power tools) and turn that into a character.

Sarah @ The Writer's Experiment