Other People in Real Life as Characters

I promised that I would make a follow-up article concerning people other than the author as characters in a story, and here it is. Want to break more fourth walls? This is the article for you. Depending on how you look at it, this is either a very common occurrence or an extremely rare one (but more on that below).

What I mean by that is that the term “Other People in Real Life as Characters” can interpreted one of two ways. Either the writer takes inspiration for his or her characters from friends and family in real life, or the writer just plops a character from real life into the story, borrowing heavily on that character, sometimes even stealing their past or name.

The former phenomenon, as you can probably tell, is far more common. Every element in a book (I’ll go out on a limb here) is borrowed from real life in some way, or from other fictions. Of course, the fictions you may or may not have borrowed from have themselves borrowed from reality or fictions prior, all the way back to Don Quixote.

Since you’re probably already well-versed in the first option, I’m going to discuss the second one: essentially kidnapping someone from real life and placing them in your fictional story. Get your spy gear, fellas. It’s about time for Maurice’s surprise adoption (into another world).

There are a few examples of this that you may already know, but I will enumerate anyway: J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were good friends during their time as writers in The Inklings clan. Some say that the venerable Ent Treebeard (Known by some as Fangorn) was modeled after Lewis himself, only as an Ent. This would make sense, as Treebeard is an exceedingly thoughtful and “un-hasty” being, not unlike the layman philosopher himself.

In contrast, some other scholars like to comment on another character in Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia: the wise professor Digory Kirke. Kirke’s willingness to take seemingly trivial matters with the utmost importance and believability harkens back to how Tolkien made similar arguments to C.S. Lewis about Christianity. If you remember Kirke’s treatment of Lucy’s honesty about the wardrobe, Tolkien’s argument to Lewis was that if Jesus wasn’t a madman and he wasn’t lying, that logically we must assume that he is telling the truth about Him being the savior of the world. This leads some people to conclude that Digory Kirke (even though he only makes a handful of meaningful appearances in the book) is, in fact, Tolkien. Ah, the tricks writers play on each other…

Some might say that Treebeard is a far cry from a human being. This brings me to my next point: you only need to copy 90% of the character. It would be like taking an actor from one movie and placing him in another movie that had a different time and place, but keeping most of the character’s telling habits and motives intact.

Some books take this to the extreme. Enter The Indian in the Cupboard. The hero, whose name is Omri, is a direct copy of a certain Omri in real life (who happens to be closely related to the author), even including the name. The “any resemblance to characters in reality, living or dead, is entirely coincidental” is lost on these authors (but it doesn’t make the fiction any less delightful).

In fiction, such techniques are often used for inside jokes and personal humor rather than actual practicality. However, if you find yourself in need of another original character, feel free to use your friends and family. (That sounds wrong…but then again, taking glee in killing off your characters also does. Hey, we’re writers…)

Good luck, and happy writing!

Be sure to check out my latest novel, Book 1 in the Praetors of Lost Magic Series, and our Publications page. Until then, writers!


Published by Van Ghalta

A cold, dark, mysterious character who purposefully wrote a story so that he could fit into it...A story where he himself WRITES stories, practices martial arts, blogs, plays airsoft, collects MTG trading cards, plays outdated video games, and writes weird, third-person bios for himself...

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