Sep 30 2008
Generally, characters that are based on the friends and family members of the author turn out poorly.
1. These characters tend to be boring because they lack flaws. If your character is based on a friend or family member, you might feel afraid to give that person flaws because the friend might find out. PS: If you’re using someone as a model, they’re probably close enough to you that they’ll read the book eventually. (Alternately, if the character is based on someone the author hates, the character will probably have no likability or style whatsoever — that sort of character is usually a liability even as an antagonist).
2. It may limit the character’s development if you feel that you have to be “true” to the real-life model. Generally, it’s easiest to write when you completely own the material.
3. Your friend or family member might not fit into the story or a satisfying development arc. Well-constructed characters will have traits, flaws, skills, conflicts and usually growth arcs carefully tailored to the story. If the character’s details don’t work for the plot, it may detract from the reading experience. For example, Soon I Will Be Invincible inexplicably tried to fit several adult superheroes into a conflict between geeks and jocks. If it seems strange that adults would really care about who was popular back in high school, it seems absolutely mind-blowing that a mutant tiger would.
4. Your friends and family are probably not quite as interesting or endearing to readers as they are to you. No offense, but most people aren’t interesting enough to have biographies written about them. Why will we care about your friends?
5. If I were evaluating a novel manuscript, I’d be really concerned about whether the author had enough distance from what he was writing.
6. While modeling characters on acquaintances is probably problematic, you can still use your real-life observations to make your characters or story feel more realistic. For example, you might draw on certain traits or habits from people you know rather than transplanting characters wholesale. That will help you maintain full ownership over the work and modify characters as necessary to fit the plot. If you find yourself making writing decisions based on what your friends/family would do in a particular situation, you would probably benefit from more creative control over your material.