Updated: Jan 30, 2022
By Bob Deakin
Upon the release of my “Unruly Mix,” I’ve been asked if certain characters are modeled after real people. Yes was my standard answer, and some who know me could easily guess who a few of the characters were inspired by.
No may be my standard answer from here on because I recently found myself in a couple uncomfortable conversations because, in one instance, someone didn’t like the depiction of ‘their’ character. Another was asking how come I didn’t use this person or that person.
Using real characters to inspire fictional ones has been going on as long as people have been writing. The misunderstandings I apparently caused were that people expected them to act like the real thing. In developing characters, I occasionally have a mental snapshot of someone that gives me a guideline with which to work. That’s as far as it goes.
It’s usually something as benign as a hairstyle, speech pattern or attitude. If I try to carry it any further it strikes me as a juvenile approach and inhibits me from further development. Same goes for the setting. I lean on the memory of real places but if I spend too much time on the details, I’m writing historical fiction, and I don't have the attention span for that?
Exceptions to my approach, of course, are cultural references such as celebrities, albums, films, etcetera. Those works inspire me in one way or another, creating images that endure. Whether it’s Brian Wilson, George Jefferson or the Abominable Snowman, something hit me some way for some reason, and I may never figure it out.
Other references I use for perspective and it saves words. If I say I grew up watching The Brady Bunch I’m sparing you the details of my generation, economic class, social status, and the paneled walls and shag carpeting that once surrounded me.
As for real-life inspirations, I’ll take the worst gutter-mouth, insensitive punk I know and place them in the role of over-protective kindergarten teacher if that’s what it takes to set up a plotline later in the story. As for actually modeling a character after someone else, it’s merely a crutch I use to get from point A to B. If I spend too much time on those details, I’m writing a diary, and who wants to read that?
If you don’t see yourself in my story, don’t take it personally. You’re probably better off as most of the characters aren’t pillars of society. If you do, don’t get too excited either. I may have discreetly snuck a mustache or an expression like yours in my final edit simply to add a bit more personality.
Many of the characters are closer approximations to myself than they are anyone else. So If you see someone in my story you think is you or someone else, think again.
It’s not you, it’s me.