|1991: My brother Paul, on the right.|
There are many people who have made a huge impact on my life. Some are no longer here, but many are part of my life today. In the spirit of "write what you know", here are a few tips for including people in your novels.
Use a name. Give one of you characters the name of a person who is meaningful to you. The character doesn't have to be exactly like that person. You don't even have to let the honoree know you've done it. I named one character after a young girl in my town who is the epitome of the girl in my story. Knowing her inspired me to deepen the character.
Pick a favorite (or un-favorite) characteristic. If you'd like to be more subtle, think of what it is about a person you know (or have known) that can be reflected in your character. One woman I know is unceasingly optimistic in the face of huge personal and financial tragedies. I gave that spirit to a character in my first novel.
An editing client needed a nasty "supervisor-type" character. Having worked in several corporate situations under less-than-ideal managers, he made his character a composite of all the negative characteristics he had come across. It made for a truly unlikeable character.
Use description. There may be a habit. A nervous tic. A common phrase or reaction that a friend or loved one uses frequently. An expression. A way they wear their hair. A certain body language unique to them. These are things you can use to make a character unique. And you'll be able to describe them effectively because you've seen it up close and personal.
You don't have to tell a person that you're using them in your book, unless you want to. Say someone you know has a nervous habit of pushing their glasses up on their nose. You can give that habit to a character that is completely different from the person you're acquainted with.
Retell an event. With all the people in our lives, we've all had thousands of big and small events that can be used in fiction. Say your characters are having an argument. It's likely you've witnessed, or have been part of, quite a few arguments. You can mine those experiences for details that will make you fiction feel more real.
And you can take the feelings from an event and use them for something else. When I was five years old, I got lost in Kennedy International Airport in New York City. Though that was long ago, I can use the feelings I remember in scenes where a character is feeling lost, abandoned or terrified. What events have you been through with others that might deepen one of your character's experiences?
Writing a novel is like creating a time capsule of your experiences and recollections. If you feel you need more experiences, try some people-watching to collect more details for your characters.
How have you used people you've known in your fiction? Have you done it deliberately, or without even realizing it?