You’re Writing a Book? Cool! Can I Be In It?

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?

you gotta love the free market...

you gotta love the free market...

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.)


About sputnitsa

Born in the US, I grew up in Africa and the West Indies, and returned stateside in my teens. I've worked in international development, social justice and democracy work, and inclusivity training both domestically and overseas. I have served in Peace Corps, where I experienced my first Russian invasion, after which I volunteered with refugees and mentored youth. I vacation climbing minarets and mountains, as well as exploring theaters, museums and parks. Here in New York, I produce short films, direct short plays, and write.
This entry was posted in beware of the author, character development, characters, funny, Harry Potter, JK Rowling, writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to You’re Writing a Book? Cool! Can I Be In It?

  1. ralfast says:

    I’ve based characters on family members. Yeah, I know.

  2. lucidlunatic says:

    Ah, you’re reminding me of how much I loved the Harry Potter series before the 5th, 6th, and 7th books came out. The first four were all really good books. I wish, I really wish that the last three had measured up.

    As for basing characters off people, sometimes. I have one unfinished short story inspired by an early scene in The History of Plymouth Plantation by Bradford where a sailor who is less than kind to some ill passengers is the first to die of disease. While that’s a real person, it isn’t someone I know.

    Many of my characters, I confess, are inspired by me. What it says about me that I can inspire multiple very different, multifaceted characters I don’t know. What I find myself doing is grabbing ahold of one philosophical point or one value and then following that to its logical conclusion. Crazy things happen, such as someone who wants to save the human race becoming a mass murderer or a well meaning scientist being indicted for mob activities.

    There is at least one TSA officer, however, who will forever live on in a short story.

    • sputnitsa says:

      Interesting, a form of exploring different paths you could have taken, or still could, if you were fully any one single part of you… Or more like breaking off pieces of you and sending them hurtling into your work, picking up more and more characteristics, snowballing into their own persons.

      Oh, you didn’t like the HPs after 4, huh? I love the series as a whole, I have to say 🙂

  3. sayssara says:

    There’s a character in my crime novel based on my ex-boss. The man was a horrendous bully, who made my working life hell, and yet for some reason I couldn’t fathom, seemed to be be able to charm the pants off all other women.

    I killed off this character at the end of the book. I found it immensely satisfying!


    • sputnitsa says:

      🙂 🙂 🙂

      Wow, I can’t imagine wanting to meet one particular person from the past in my book. I’d have to spend FAR more time with him than I’d want. 🙂 But you managed to keep your horrendous boss in your book and not go mad. That in and of itself is incredible 🙂

      And I guess we know what shirt you need to start wearing!!! 🙂

      Seriously, …. I think I want that shirt too!!! 🙂

      • sayssara says:

        It took me a while, after I left the job, to be anywhere near the part of London I used to work in and not feel my blood pressure rising. So the whole killing off his literary equivalent was actually rather helpful to the process of moving on!

        Yeah, I like that shirt too!!

  4. Can I be your muse?


  5. JLC says:

    A few of my characters are remakes of other characters I’ve known through other books, movies, or tv shows. I’ve never drawn a character from real people.

    I never knew that about Rowling. It was pretty brave of her to assume he wouldn’t catch the similarity. 🙂

    • sputnitsa says:

      I know! Especially considering she’s pretty much specified which character he is. I hear Snape was modeled slightly after a math (?) teacher she once had. 🙂

      How interesting that you can draw from fictional characters to make new ones! Impressive. Really impressive.

      Now you’ve got me thinking about why we pick the people we pick…

  6. Beth says:

    My sister has asked me if she can be a character in my novel(s). I have pulled some of her comments and actions to include, but not her directly.
    There is someone who I really want to eviscerate in fiction, but my current story lines don’t give me the opportunity.
    Like Lucidlunatic, I pull a lot of my characters from aspects of myself. Philosophical ideas, how I perceive myself, how others perceive me, politics, etc.

    • sputnitsa says:

      I have to admit that I’ve chucked in one “character” purely for a laugh. Well, more of an animal, really.

      It’s the pet of two of my friends, and she’s retained her name (but I think not her gender). I have absolutely no idea if she’ll make it to the third draft, but we’ll see 🙂

  7. That’s funny anecdote from Rowling.

    As for me, there have been a few times I’ve started vaguely with a real person, but once I started the actual writing, the character took on their own personality. As they always do…

  8. sputnitsa says:


    I TOTALLY understand. 🙂

    And I have to say, although I posted the shirt pic as a joke, remembering it from months back when someone else showed it to me… I kinda want it! 🙂

    🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂
    I’m glad your health is no longer affected by that boss. I’ve been there too..

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