This is a long time coming. Courtney wrote a piece on why she doesn’t write about people she knows, and I operate the exact opposite way.
When I’m sitting down to design a character, they have to come from a place that I know and can understand. In order to make them fully fleshed out, they have to have idiosyncrasies that I can manage, flaws, habits, likes and dislikes – the works. Of course, you can do all of this from scratch but I promise every combination that you come up with is based in some part on someone you know.
The most real and dynamic characters are real people. They may be a mixture of people or traits, but to write them well they are all going to come from a place of reality. You may not know that I’m basing it on you. You may not even know that you have the habit that I’ve identified for this character, but it’s there.
Every character I’ve written has been drawn from, in some way, people I’ve met before.
Now that’s not to say that if you read my writing its some advanced fan-fic of my day to day life. Rarely am I writing about you specifically, or because I can’t get you out of my mind. It means that you’re weird, or unique enough that you’re specific quirks for my character. But you’re there. It’s not necessarily some great compliment. You may not always like what I’ve done with your traits. But it’s not about you anymore. They have become part of this character, and this story.
I truly believe that we are a collection of the people we’ve met in life. In one form or another. To write about you is to write about me. Your traits aren’t your own anymore. If you do see yourself in my writing, I’d like to think you take that as a compliment. That you had an effect on me strong enough that I was able to identify certain qualities in you that I wanted to use. You helped me build a foundation of traits and characters to be used in future writing projects.
Every character I’ve written is some combination of the people in my life, the real forms or idealized forms of those people. I’d go so far as to argue that a majority of well-developed characters are the same. They will find their basis in reality, even if not by name.
To make a character real, they have to feel real. You can’t mimic reality in a strong enough form to create someone out of nothing. Dynamic characters feel dynamic and real because your reader can identify people from their own lives in the characters you create. It is a moment of “hey, we both know this person” between you and your audience.