Friday, February 9, 2018

Using Real-Life People to Inspire an Original Cast of Characters - A Guest Post by Hope Pennington

You may be wondering: What? A guest post? What's going on? 

Let me explain.

Hope Pennington is awesome. She, in her awesomeness, has stepped up to cover for me this Friday as I do my event coordinating for WriteOnCon (If you don't know what WriteOnCon is, go watch this video, then register and jump on in! It's not too late!). In this post she talks about how we often overlook some of the best pieces of inspiration for creating a fascinating cast of characters: Our next door neighbors. So hunker down and read this post to learn about all the ways you can use people in your own life to enrich your characters and bring your story to life: 


It's a fact.

Most books have the same 4 characters as every other.
  • The strong young white male hero 
  • The psychopathic young white male villain 
  • The less powerful more charming young white male friend 
  • The young white pretty female friend 
Some people change up one part of the stereotype to be different.

A popular one right now is switching the hero to a strong young white female.

But is being different really the problem here?

Not only are these characters carbon copies of each other which gets old and boring but they are only one story. A story and cast I have personally never seen in my real life.

Are writers so busy watching TV and reading books that show these same 4 characters that they forget the most exciting character of all?...

Their next door neighbors.
Using Real-Life People to Inspire an Original Cast of Characters - A Guest Post by Hope Pennington
If you asked me to write a book using only the people I saw for one day of my everyday life these are the characters I'd have to choose from.
  • A curvy middle aged black lady who's all puns and jokes and works at HEB 
  • Her sister just as curvy who laughs too hard at her sister's jokes, who buys all of her clothes at WallMart and smiles every day of her life
  • A heavy twelve year old boy with a Mohawk, a love of sweets and the most mature, respectful, and confident kindness I've seen on anyone
  • A middle-aged businesswoman who talks fast, frowns, and is always in a rush 
  • A young white couple with a man who bosses around his pregnant, giggling wife until she snaps and barks back, getting her way 
  • A pretty young Hispanic girl, small and laid back who's quite down to earth and comfortable 
  • A young black man with long stylish hair and a new elaborate new thrift store outfit every day with a voice of silk that could put anyone to sleep, a pretty face, who speaks deep proverbs 
  • A middle-aged Hispanic lady who speaks in broken English and thanks everyone for everything every two seconds 
  • A trans woman with the highest IQ on the block, beautiful eyes, and an Australian accent 
  • An Asian dad who wears a sweater even on a hot day and makes passive-aggressive jokes 
  • His quite teen daughter who never talks 
  • His seven-year-old boy who never stops and can't make up his mind 
  • A middle-aged black man with the kindest heart of anyone who's a computer science genius but runs a candy shop as well and loves to make wood crafts 
These are just a few of the people I meet in a day of being me. Imagine if I wrote a book with them as the characters instead of the cliche paper cutouts used and overused by most people?

Not only would my book have a unique and diverse cast, but I didn't even have to make them up. They are more complicated than I ever could've imagined because they are actually real.

You don't have to look far to create an original cast.

And for the people saying I'm trying to force diversity in: These are just the people I meet in everyday life. It seems more like I'd have to force them out if I wrote a mostly male, mostly white, mostly young cast of characters.

And not only that but the stories of the real people around you are more exciting than you could've ever imagined.

I challenge you. For just one day in your life write down a brief profile of everyone you meet and use them (or someone like them) in your next story. Also start taking note of the TV and books you take in and how much their cast and reality align with each other.

You may be surprised at how boring these stories become in light of real characters.

There's just one more group of people that I think you're overlooking when putting together your book who could be of immeasurable inspiration. Your family. You have a people group of diverse personalities who you've spent your whole life with. Ask them how they think. How they process things. Incorporate that into your character construction.

Prepare to see your characters come to life in a way you never thought possible because, as odd as it may seem: 

Truth is stranger than fiction.

And there are so many stories waiting to be told.


Like Hope's writing thoughts? Yeah, I do, too. If you want to obtain more of her awesomeness, you can follow her here: 

Her WebsiteHer InstagramHer Youtube

Related articles: 

8 Different Kinds of Strengths to Give Your Characters
Writing a Compelling Hero: 7 Tips With Examples
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  1. Real people can make the best inspiration! I keep a list of the most interesting strangers I see.

  2. Awesome post, Hope! I completely agree that there seems to be the same 'type' of character over and over. I have a couple characters that I enjoy seeing over and over, but those are few and far between. I am MUCH more impressed with wholly unique characters. And you're right, so many one-of-a-kind characters can be found in real life, if you remember to look.
    Thank you for the reminder to see the people around us!

  3. Haha, I've based quite a few characters in my first YA novel around people I've seen in school, xD I'm hoping to get more inspiration if I make it to college.


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