Write Who You Don’t Know?

A psychologist always stirs up suspicion at a party. Guests laugh as they ask whether they’re being analyzed, but they’re never quite joking. Should they avoid mentioning their mothers? Not pick up any phallic objects?

A writer at a party is a more ambiguous entity. The unusual job catches people’s attention, but can also make them suspicious – is this a real writer (however they define that), or simply someone trying to show off a hobby like crocheting or painting garden gnomes? Has she written something the other guests should know about? Either way, the conversation quickly moves on to teasing references to “showing up in your next novel.” Like the jokes about being psychoanalyzed, the remark is always made with facetiousness that can’t conceal the sincere curiosity behind it: Will I be in your next book? Am I interesting, memorable enough to be a character? Would I come off well or be the bad guy? More importantly: Should I watch what I say?

When asked, I usually tell people I don’t base my characters on real people, which is sort of true and sort of not. What I really mean is, I don’t usually base a character one hundred percent on a real person. There are some good reasons not to.

Don't write who you know

Too distracting. Focusing on trying to get an exact replica of someone into your book distracts you from your real project – writing a well-rounded character who works in the context of the fictional world you’ve created. Especially if the person you’re modelling your character on is someone you know well, you’re likely to get bogged down in irrelevant backstory. Just because you know that real-life Matt likes to watch tractor-pulling competitions, doesn’t mean your fictional Pat has to. It can be safer to veer towards people you don’t know very well since, that way, you’re forced to fill in the blanks....more