Do You Analyse Family and Friends?

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Writers analyse, they observe, they take notes. People-watching is a skill you learn and use, sometimes daily. You take mental notes on how that woman tipped back her head as she laughed or how the man touched his nose while talking. It's all useful in some way but, as a writer, do you analyse your friends and family?

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The best way to make a character seem real is to give them mannerisms or ticks, give them a personality. How they react in any given situation is dictated by you (most of the time), and people-watching can be used to aid your character development. But people-watching doesn't show you the intimate side of the relationship. The little things that a husband and wife share, or a mother and son, make those relationships special.

When I started writing I never thought about it that way, I wrote what was in my head and left it at that. The more I wrote the more I realised how flat my characters were; I had to do research. I watched people in the playground when picking my children up from school. I paid attention when out walking with the family, and I tried to remember how people from my past would react in certain situations. All the observations helped me a lot and over the years my characters have developed habits of their own. 

One thing I have never done is use something I saw a family member doing. I am so afraid of a family member realising a character is based on them that I couldn't do it. Although I want my characters to be real I don't want to make them resemble someone I know in real life. All my mental notes are taken from strangers, something I saw in a movie or at the coffee shop. I change little things here and there, add habits as I see fit and create my character as a whole new person. But does this mean my characters are missing something essential?

By using the mannerisms of someone I know would that turn my character from words on a page into a real, breathing person. Am I denying the essence of my characters because I am afraid?

Have you ever used family member's personality traits directly or as inspiration for a story?


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18 comments:

  1. Ooh, fab post Morgan - got me thinking! Honestly, I think my characters are a bit shallow at the moment and I need to do more work in this area. I do think it's a bit risky using traits of family and friends unless you know they'll be fine about it. Some people might be flattered though! Also, things that are obvious to writers and people-watchers might not be remotely obvious to others so there's a good chance that many people might not even notice if you based character trails on them. Hmmm. Try it and see? Thanks for linking to #WhatImWriting

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    1. I didn't think of it that way Maddy, I just presumed that all people would notice the things I do! Ha! You might be right. :)

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  2. I am an inveterate people watcher and I have a lot of empathy for other's, which makes it handy when writing! I dip into the traits of people I've observed or who I know well. I only hope they don't recognise too much of themselves if they ever read it, so yes it has it's trickier aspects!

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    1. I'm like that too Iona, I have lots of empathy for others and it does help when writing. The tricky thing with people-watching is when they catch you watching! ;)

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  3. I love people watching and I've always been quite of observant when it comes to people's body language and behaviours. I used a trait of my husband's on one of my characters - he has a habit of scratching at his eyebrow when he's stressed. So much so, that there's a permanent mark there where the hair doesn't grow! He doesn't know that I took this little trait of his, but he's not likely to read my story anyway, so it doesn't matter either way.

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    1. That's an interesting one Nicola, it's funny the things we notice about others isn't it? Particularly those close to us. The Hubby is going to be my first reader so I could never use one of his traits, I'm not sure he'd appreciate it!

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  4. Great post and I find myself completely agreeing with you. I'd never base a character on someone close to me. Acquaintances and strangers and sometimes well-known people are an influence. And it's very tempting to use the characteristics of someone you dislike in an antagonist! I have to say an unpleasant ex boss does feature in my second book!

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    1. Hehe, I never thought of using an ex-boss! Good idea. :)

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  5. I completely agree with you! thank you for linking up

    All About You Co-Host (ANNA)
    Happy Medley Blog

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  6. This is a great post hon! I analyise absolutely everyone - I've always put it down to my love of psychology, but perhaps subconsciously I've been making mental notes for future writing projects? xx

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    1. You know Renée, the more I talk with you the more I realise how much we have in common. I love psychology too - even studied it (GCSE) in college. I think you're right, you've been storing up all these great ideas for your future projects! Bet you've got loads of great stuff. :)

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  7. The antagonist in my current novel is definitely based quite strongly on an amalgamation of two unpleasant exes... But I agree that using people that feature strongly in your current life can be problematic. I still can't help myself sometimes, but I suppose I figure I can get away with it by being a bit of a magpie, picking up ideas from everywhere rather than basing a character on just one person. Fingers crossed anyway! X

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    1. I think that's probably what I would do too, taking lots of traits from different people. Exes are a great source! :)

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  8. Oooh, what a good question.... This is also a good reminder for me to pay MORE attention to people and their mannerisms. Sometimes I forget what a great tool that is and that I don't have to invent every single thing. As for borrowing family and/or friend ones, I may have used some biographical info, but I haven't yet taken actual mannerisms. I wouldn't want to get caught either, but sometimes a writer's got to do what a writer's go to do...

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    1. I sometimes forget to pay attention too but when I am paying attention I try to remember everything. It's not always easy. I don't think I'll ever use someone close to me this way though. :)

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  9. I just wanted to write YES when I read the title. I pick up all sorts of interactions between people, more so now than I did before And yes, I've used traits from real people, mostly in attitude or phrasing. The people involved know, but have never read it. You could get away with it if you fictionalised enough, but then would you lose some of the genuine character? It's all a bit of a balancing act x

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    1. I'm beginning to think that as long as I don't use stuff that's too personal it should be okay. I haven't done it yet though. Fictionalising more is a good tip. :)

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