J.K. Rowling has famously said that her conceited character Gilderoy Lockhart was modeled on someone she knows. As she says on her website:
I assure you that the person on whom Gilderoy was modelled was even more objectionable than his fictional counterpart. He used to tell whopping great fibs about his past life, all of them designed to demonstrate what a wonderful, brave and brilliant person he was.
She goes on to remark that she doubts that this person will ever realize how he’s been depicted:
He’s probably out there now telling everybody that he inspired the character of Albus Dumbledore. Or that he wrote the books and lets me take the credit out of kindness.
Have any of you ever taken real people and put them into the pages of your books? I’m not talking biographies, I should say. Do you find you have any qualms, or is it pure pleasure? What is it about a person that merits your doing so, if you do? Do you find any similarities among the folks who slip between your pages? Do you make changes on purpose, or do they metamorphosize naturally?
One of my characters has taken the name of someone from my own past. He had no great personal impact in my life, yet he became, to me, the quintessential bully. Despite this, his character is much more nuanced in the book. Although he’s retained one physical feature from the real boy, overall he looks different and possesses a character I understand more than I ever sought to understand the real boy’s. Also, I care for him. Which is more than I can say for that kid from the past.
Despite my giving him a name I have forever associated with someone else, a tough and unforgiving name, his character immediately *snap* was his own. He’s one of those organic characters I mentioned earlier. I never had to draw him up on a chart. I knew him from the get-go. Despite the fact that he came with the bully’s name, he also came with his own personality and story.
And then I have one other definite drawing from real life. She, however, has not changed a whit. She was always intended to be this person, and that she’s remained. I’ll need to change her name in the rewrite. She’ll always be my secret chuckle, I think. If she lasts.
What about you? And have you heard of other authors doing this?
Err, I should note I don’t kill characters based on real people.
Or I haven’t yet, I should say. (She flicked a speck of dust off her shoulder and smiled into the distance.)