You do NOT want a writer to base a character on you

This is a rant similar to the one I wrote about people who say “You know what would be a great story idea?”

This is another one of those things that writers will say you should not ask us.

Don’t ask a writer to base a character on you in their book. You don’t really want them to do that. In fact, if you’re smart, you’ll hand the writer chocolate and flowers and steaming cups of tea and say “Please don’t write me into your book. Please.”

Best Case Scenario

If a writer obliges in adding a character based on you into a book, the best case scenario is that it’s a fleeting cameo. Think of the way Stephen King or Stan Lee often appear in the films of their works.  Your character might be the wise postman, or the woman the protagonist knocks over on the street while fleeing oncoming doom.   Ideally, this cameo is somehow necessary for the plot, because otherwise you’re likely to get written out in a rewrite as they condense the number of faces on the “screen.”

Cameo -you will barely merit physical description, your heart and mind remain an uninteresting mystery to the reader.  You are a semi-useful literary widget like all of the other faceless character-widgets.  Yes, this is the best case scenario.

Because the alternatives are not so benign.

Lousy Scenario  #1: Existential Angst

Okay, the writer has agreed to base a character on you. The writer has written you in as a cameo that has been edited out on multiple drafts of several stories. Now the writer is pressed to make you a full-face character that blinks and breathes and has a reason to be part of the plot.

It really sucks to be you, right now.

Why? Well, because the writer might just do that.  Do you really want that writer inside your head, describing you physically, understanding your motives and decisions? Do you really want to read a portrait of yourself on the page?

Unless that writer loves you to bits and is utterly blind to your faults, you are probably going to find that full-light photograph unflattering.   Characters have to be flawed to be believable, so it’s entirely likely that they will write you a little less perfect than you really are.

You are looking for the existential reflection of love. You’re looking for a mirror to reflect back how you are perceived by the world.  The writer is writing a story, and if they are writing a good story, they have to give up on caring about how you feel about that reflection.

If you’re going to be a living, breathing character in their book, you’re going to have to have faults and wrinkles and naughty thoughts. You’re going to have to do things you regret doing.

Lousy scenario: #2 – Funhouse mirrors

The above lousy scenario is about reading your reflected character self if the writer tries to tell the truth about who you are, with only minor exaggerations or changes.  Like seeing your reflection in the back of a dented elevator door, it’s still mostly-accurate as mirrors go.

What happens when the writer needs to take more creative license?

Worse, what if through the editing process, the writer has to depart from “you” and write the character in a new way. It’s suddenly not-you. An evil twin, or a ditsy twin, or a distant cousin of yours sits in your character’s place.  The writer can explain these changes and how they fit better with the story.

But what if they really think you are a sociopath?

Face it, you’re not likely to ever get a clear picture of what the writer thinks of you. This is never going to be flattering. It’s not going to be fun.

Lousy scenario: #3 – You’re a protagonist

Lord help you if the writer has decided to make you a protagonist.  If you’re a big enough character in a plot, it means you have an arc. It means you have to change as a person as a result of your story.

Writers aren’t ever very kind to our characters. The whole idea of plot is to screw up their lives more and more and more until they reach their breaking point and have to change something drastic inside themselves and in their worlds.  We set out to break our characters.

I know some people like the idea of letting a writer “break” them, kink aside, think about this carefully.

Do you really want to ask that writer friend of yours to show you explicitly how they would do that to you?

Lousy scenario: #4 – Writer Therapy

I don’t base whole characters on whole people in my books. But I sure do base aspects of personalities on aspects of real people. I might directly quote something someone has said to me in dialogue.  I might base the character’s emotional realities on my own emotions from situations in my past.

In those cases, I’m generally using writing as therapy. I’m working through my issues. If that means shooting the character who is making me angry, then that character gets shot. Or tortured. Or however else I want that character to suffer.

If I write you into a plot without you knowing about it, it’s probably not a good thing.

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2 thoughts on “You do NOT want a writer to base a character on you

  1. Pingback: The Unwritten Story Challenge~by FallenRedViolet, FrillyXtianWater, PrayingGleam, Starshelle, ThisTwitchingGrrrl, FaithTin, and MonsterChiari | The Write Stuff

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