Saturday, April 21, 2018

How “Real” Are My Characters?

Are my characters modeled after real life people? This is always an interesting question. The answer is yes. And the answer is no! As my characters are a hodge-podge of the many “real” people I’ve known over the years, snippets of their experiences wind up on my pages. And I’ve known people who live turbulent lives; Carlene Arness, the victim in Murder at the Book Group, #1 in my Hazel Rose Book Group series, is a case in point.

I think people expect similarities between myself and my sleuth, Hazel Rose. Like Hazel, I was born on the east coast, moved to Los Angeles in my twenties, and started my career as a computer programmer. Like Hazel, I had a calico cat named Shammy who accompanied me when I moved back east in 1996 and settled in Richmond, Virginia. Hazel and I share a commitment to the environment, we’re both frugal and unimpressed with the high life.

But divorce and widowhood have not touched my life—I will soon celebrate 29 years with my one and only husband. I may get stuck in ruts, but not for long. And, alas, I don’t have Hazel’s “money green” eyes.

The biggest difference between me and Hazel is this: if I needed to re-purpose my life a murder investigation would not be the method I’d choose. No question about it. 

But real people did find their way into Murder at the Book Group, like a woman I used to see at a gym in Richmond. I never knew her name or even talked to her except for a hi and a wave. She was partial to leopard prints and chartreuse. The last time I saw her she sashayed into the gym sporting chartreuse stiletto boots and a leopard cowgirl hat, platinum blonde curls cascading down her back. She became Kat Berenger in the Hazel Rose series. As a perk, I gave her a personal trainer job at the same gym.

Jeanette Thacker “reminds” me of a former co-worker. Jeanette doesn’t feel the need to censor her speech.  However, her language was much saltier in earlier versions. My editor advised me to ditch the swear words. If the real Jeanette reads my tome and recognizes herself I think she’ll be pleased but will probably wonder why she’s using words like “frigging.”

Another character is based on a woman with whom I once had an adversarial work relationship. I made her nasty as all get out. But I had a runaway word count and some ruthless editing was in order. Ms. Nasty got whittled down and, lo and behold, she became quite nice! I’m still scratching my head about that. Do other writers unwittingly transform their characters via literary nip n tuck? Is writing a vehicle for forgiveness? Someone with savvy in the spiritual realm can weigh in on this question.

Here is a list of some classic characters you may not have known were based on real people. Dorian Gray is one of them.

Image from

How about you, my fellow writers: how “real” are your characters?

Maggie King is the author of the Hazel Rose Book Group mysteries, including Murder at the Book Group and Murder at the Moonshine Inn. She has contributed stories to the Virginia is for Mysteries anthologies and to the 50 Shades of Cabernet anthology. She lives in Richmond, Virginia with her husband and two overly-indulged cats.

Instagram: authormaggieking

Amazon author page:


GBPool said...

Mostly my answer would be no. I don't base my characters on people I know, except... My dad is definitely the character in my spy novels. My entire family shows up, but that's because I based it on our lives. As I say, "The facts are true. I made up the rest." As for my detective stories, I used to be a private detective, so I use some real stuff. But most is really from my imagination because I can control that world and I really have more fun creating characters. This was a fun post Maggie.

jrlindermuth said...

Good post Maggie. My characters tend to be a merger of personality and appearance of people I've met or seen--and I think that's the practice of many writers. To date I've only had one person insist he was a 'character' in one of my stories. He was only partially correct, though he declined to believe it when I told him. Fortunately he wasn't offended by the portrayal. I guess it's a good thing he wasn't the villain.

Marja said...

Enjoyable post, Maggie. I can think of at least one book where the bad guy's personality was based on an historical relative, but the character was also based on a man I used to see at a local restaurant on a regular basis. Some of my characters are purely fictional, and others are based on someone I've known or seen. I'll let readers figure out which is which.

Maggie King said...

John, I agree that we composite our characters. I know that anyone I've been in a book group with scrutinizes all the characters, looking for that gotcha moment: "I just KNOW that's so and so." I try to tell them that I've been in many book groups. They don't want to believe me. Oh well.

Maggie King said...

Marja, it's fun to twist the real characters into someone unrecognizable (in many cases, I hope that's

Amy Reade said...

Fun post, Maggie! I can think of one character in my books who's, um, quite a character. I didn't intentionally write him like someone I knew, but I think my subconscious was working overtime. His wife read the book and showed it to him and he's convinced I based the character on him. Is he right? Maybe so! The man and his wife aren't the only ones who saw a strong resemblance--quite a few people who know me and know them also mentioned it. The character is a great guy (for the most part) and so is the real-life one, so it worked out.

Liane Spicer said...

Money-green eyes! I want those!

I followed your link to those famous characters. Fascinating stuff! (I also clicked on some fascinating links on that page and lost about half an hour before finding myself back here. :D ) Some--not all--of my characters are based on people I know, or people I've heard about. Others are composites.

Great post!

Maggie King said...

Amy, it's interesting that your subconscious created that character. I'm sure that happens to a lot of authors.

Liane, I often get lost in cyberspace. It's wonderful and maddening at the same time!

G. B. Miller said...

Most of my characters are composites of people that I know. One character I wrote was based on a real person as she won a contest I was having for my 1st book and her prize was to be written in as a throwaway character. Wrote her as a complete polar opposite of what she actually was in real life.

Maggie King said...

G.B. How did she like your portrayal of her?

Gloria Getman said...

My characters are REAL to me, but only to me. Lottie in Lottie's Legacy was a mixture of a woman I saw in a grocery store years back and worked her into the person I wanted. There's a homeless man in that story, but I've never known a homeless person. He just popped onto the page. Characters are just plain fun, the odder, the better.

Maggie King said...

I agree, Gloria. Characters are fun! I love molding and blending them.

Joyce. Ann Brown said...

My characters are composites, as are many of yours. For evil characters, I rely on personality characteristics and motivations from books and films. It's always interesting to give each character some "good" and some "bad" qualities and see how they turn out. In one of my books, I changed the ending after my critique group started loving the bad guys too much.