Scratch that, this is DEFINITELY a VERY dangerous thing to admit: I sometimes base characters on real people in my life.
Note to everyone reading: I never write a mirror image of a friend. I never take every aspect of a person and incorporate all of it into a single character. And, above all else, if you are reading this I did NOT base a character on you. I promise. I pinky swear.
The truth is, my first novel, a never-seen-the-light-of-day adult literary disaster is chock full of my friends and family. In fact, when I was writing it, I openly told my four best friends that each of them had a character based on them. They were thrilled. Until I revealed to my good friend Mandy that the character I had based on her... died. "You killed me off??" she said, wondering if maybe she wasn't interesting or lovable enough to make it past the first half of the novel alive. I had a lot of reassuring to do, and promised her that she was killed off because she was a wonderful character, not because she wasn't an interesting one.
After that experience, I vowed to never base a character so squarely on a real person again. And I haven't (I promise! I swear!) But there are bits and pieces of me and my loved ones in all my characters. It's said that when you dream, every character in the dream is a part of your own self, and I think this is true in my writing as well. I am certainly in each of my narrators: fractured pieces of my personality and psyche expanded and distorted to become more interesting. Bits of my best friends are in my characters' best friends. Bits of my exes are in my characters' loved ones. Sometimes, a tiny moment will surface-- a character who has never tried steak and eggs before her boyfriend introduces her to them for the first time is based on my ex-boyfriend introducing me to the undeniable pleasure of steak and eggs. A friend's comfy armchair shows up in one of my character's living rooms. My own love of the song The Rainbow Connection becomes my protagonist's favorite song. Nothing private, nothing personal or embarrassing or mean. Just little, tiny, almost unnoticeable details that help make up a life.
These are small pleasures. Dedications, almost. My steak-and-egg-loving ex can read that scene and acknowledge that small, remembered niceness between us, and know that his steak-and-eggs taught me a little bit about what love is.
And don't worry. I never, ever, use anything but the good memories.