Deb Sarah Steals Character Traits for Her Books From Friends & Family

Recently, an old friend of mine sent me a note on Facebook (come on over and find me on my author page—I’d love to see you!). Her message went something like this: “OMG, I read the part about XYZ on page XX of The Violets of March, and I know where you got that!” And yes, she was right! If you know me well, you will be able to pick out certain character traits and snippets in the book that come from real life people. Um, apologies to everyone I know!

Yes, Violets is a work of fiction, of course, but while writing the story, I definitely thought about the character traits of the people I love (as well as the ones I struggle to like!). Here are a few examples of real life people who inspired characters/stories in the book:

*Aunt Bee, in Violets, eats the same breakfast every morning: sourdough toast cut up in squares and topped with whipped honey and butter, which is served on a paper towel. This is exactly the way my late grandmother, Cecelia, ate her breakfast. And it makes me think of her and miss her! It’s a comfort breakfast for me.

*The reference about the girl in high school who was worried about missing the ferry from Seattle returning to the island—the girl who decided to just go for it and jump from the ferry terminal to try to catch the ferry that had already pulled out into the harbor and, oops, fell into the Puget Sound. This is a true story of a girl I knew in high school.

*Greg: Yup, he’s modeled after a guy I had a crush on when I was a teenager! I couldn’t help myself. 🙂

There are lots more. So, yeah, I guess don’t hang out with me. I might steal your quirks and put them in a novel. I promise, I won’t use your real name!

Tell me: Would it offend you if your good friend was a novelist and you recognized something about yourself or a shared experience that was told in the story (anonymously of course)? Or would it make you grin conspiratorially?

xo, Sarah

21 thoughts on “Deb Sarah Steals Character Traits for Her Books From Friends & Family

  1. I assumed that all authors used snippets from their lives (friends, families, other) when developing characters and scenes. Or perhaps in my mind I hoped they did. Thanks for sharing how you did it! All of those little details are great to know! And I would love it if someone included something about me in their novel.

    Missy

    • Missy, I’ve heard authors say both: That they NEVER draw from real life, and that yes, they do. I think most do! 🙂 xo

  2. Hmmm. Depends on how unflattering — and recognizable — the trait is, I suppose. 😉

    I borrow features from everyone around me when I’m writing. Sometimes I feel like Dr. Frankenstein, assembling my own creations from bits and pieces of real people. And I only use unflattering bits from people I suspect will never read my books. 😉

  3. seems like a sweet way to share parts of people you love.

    also there’s a mistake in the title of this post, I’m not sure what steeling character traits would be but I don’t think it would be very pleasant!

  4. It would totally feed my ego to know someone wrote parts of me into their book, you know, as long as I wasn’t a serial killer or something. But wait, we just talked about serial killers being fascinating. So yeah, go ahead and make me a serial killer, I’m okay with that.

    • Acknowledgments are SO special, which is why I love reading them in books! One of my favorite sections.

  5. I actually can’t remember which of my books makes reference to a boss who chronically scratches himself in an inappropriate place. Suffice it to say, I really knew such a guy 🙂

    Tawna

  6. I try to ask permission if I’m aware that I’m using a trait or story that belongs to a friend of mine. Unless it’s really unflattering. 🙂

  7. I think I’d be excited… kind of depends on context 🙂

    I will say this: there’s a named-but-not-seen character in Populazzi named “Stevenson Jaffe.” The character himself has nothing to do with real life, but the name is a combo of two theatre teachers I had in college, and my college friends enjoyed that a lot!

  8. I would be flattered. Whether it was a positive or negative trait, I would know that the author was thinking of me, that I had invaded their mind enough that they just HAD to include me in their book. I would guess that even authors who say they don’t do this, do it subconsciously, because where else do ideas come from besides life?

  9. Thanks for sharing those inspirations, Sarah. What fun!

    I think I’d be flattered…but I know as a writer it is so easy to build in familiar characteristics from friends or family or even the guy I parked next to at the store today. Then I have that moment of panic: Will they know? Will they wonder?

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