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Is it ok to base some of your villains looks on real bad people you know personally?

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Reverent33345

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I mean to base villains on actual people that you knew in your own life personally, not ones that are known throughout the world or by others. I'm talking more just basing their appearances on them. Their personalities and attitudes could still be villainous and hateful but I would make that up more so it's not directly relevant that exact person in real life just to be a little more creative and not so obvious. And this goes for any forms of media too like books, novellas, graphic novels, comics, etc.

Is any of this ok?
 

Culhwch

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Seems a bit petty, to be honest. You might want to ask yourself why you'd want to in the first place. I'd recommend turning to your imagination in the first instance. Or maybe try stock photos?
 

Venusian Broon

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To be honest I don't know, depends on a number of factors I think. But let's turn this around (and turn the dial up to 11 at first). Imagine you get a book written by a friend and a character turns up in in and you can clearly see that it's physically based on you - and they didn't tell you about this. Then as the book unfolds it turns out that this character is also a genocidal crypto-fascist paedophile with deformed genitalia and no redeeming qualities whatsoever. How would you feel about that?

Okay, that's a bit extreme. What if it was toned down. Your physical appearance but a wife/husband-beating drunk?
 

Droflet

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I use inspiration from everywhere and everyone. But I keep friends out of the mix. I suggest you use your life experiences and if that doesn't work you always have your imagination. Think like a writer if you want to be one.
 

The Judge

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It all depends.
  • will your work be published? If not, it doesn't matter what you write about anyone. If it is ever published, no matter by whom or where, then not even a "All characters are completely fictional and any similarity with real people is a coincidence" type paragraph at the front of the book is necessarily enough to prevent an action for libel.
  • would the characters be easily recognisable? Simply giving the baddies brown hair or blue eyes or an aggressive temper like these people you know isn't a problem. Describing them in detail and including very specific identifying marks such as a particular scar or birthmark or verbal tic or attitude is a different matter. The more you describe them, and the more readily identifiable they are, the greater risk you run.
  • how bad are the characters? As VB has indicated, the worse they are, the more upset the real life people are going to be at their depiction, but even something as apparently innocuous as adultery might be enough to distress someone who is deeply religious. The more upset someone is, the greater risk you run again.
  • how litigious are these people? Someone who is very laid back might take libellous depictions in his stride; someone who takes offence easily won't.
  • what country would you publish in? The libel laws in England and Wales are more generous to plaintiffs than those in the US as I understand it. Though having said that, if you publish in the US and it's read by someone in England, that could well give rise to a right of action here.
  • how much of a lawyer are you to defend yourself against a libel action if the worst happens?

My advice, keep the people you dislike in mind when writing the characters, but even if you're happy to make enemies and/or you want to offend these people, make very sure that you don't describe them in specific detail, plus change their personalities sufficiently that they're not recognised by themselves or by others who might tell them. And keep your fingers crossed.
 

Reverent33345

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Seems a bit petty, to be honest. You might want to ask yourself why you'd want to in the first place. I'd recommend turning to your imagination in the first instance. Or maybe try stock photos?
Funny thing is I feel it was helping me create my villains easier since I have a starting base for those who I know in real life that did actual bad things which I could exaggerate for being more imaginative. Or maybe it's just me?

To be honest I don't know, depends on a number of factors I think. But let's turn this around (and turn the dial up to 11 at first). Imagine you get a book written by a friend and a character turns up in in and you can clearly see that it's physically based on you - and they didn't tell you about this. Then as the book unfolds it turns out that this character is also a genocidal crypto-fascist paedophile with deformed genitalia and no redeeming qualities whatsoever. How would you feel about that?

Okay, that's a bit extreme. What if it was toned down. Your physical appearance but a wife/husband-beating drunk?
I see what you're getting at although this would be no friend, it would be of someone who has committed real acts of violence and done real harm to others. And obviously I wouldn't go that extreme with making them a pedophile rapist or drunk wife beater, though say they did that stuff in real life or something quite similar, I would still try to turn it into something else fictional that almost relates to that subject and even alter their appearance so it's not too similar.
 

-K2-

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In my fictional writing, I have used a number of 'real bad and real good' people I know, however, I do not use their actual names, descriptions, locations, events, and so on. You don't need the potential for problems, and MOST importantly, you don't want to cast unjust aspersions based upon your assumptions on someone who you do NOT have the whole story about. If you know for an unquestionable fact, than great, call the police.

That said, I have used the actual names, descriptions, locations, events, etc. of actual seriously bad people from my past in 'non-fictional' accounts. However, in those cases I know without question from direct experience what I am saying. And, if any of them were still alive, would welcome and seek out direct confrontation including pressing criminal charges.

"I" always try to remember; thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor... be it by intent or mistake. But that's just my measuring stick.

K2
 

Reverent33345

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I use inspiration from everywhere and everyone. But I keep friends out of the mix. I suggest you use your life experiences and if that doesn't work you always have your imagination. Think like a writer if you want to be one.
Again, it would be nowhere near a friend or buddy I cared about or joked around with. It would be someone that's done really bad things, even to others and just try to create something fictional out of it like a starting base, rather than try to copy off if already existing villains. I'm sure there are writers in the oast that have used inspiration from people they knew it real life as a villain or antagonist in their stories? Like based of a bad parent, bad boss, bad person they've witnessed in a hostile environment?

It all depends.
  • will your work be published? If not, it doesn't matter what you write about anyone. If it is ever published, no matter by whom or where, then not even a "All characters are completely fictional and any similarity with real people is a coincidence" type paragraph at the front of the book is necessarily enough to prevent an action for libel.
  • would the characters be easily recognisable? Simply giving the baddies brown hair or blue eyes or an aggressive temper like these people you know isn't a problem. Describing them in detail and including very specific identifying marks such as a particular scar or birthmark or verbal tic or attitude is a different matter. The more you describe them, and the more readily identifiable they are, the greater risk you run.
  • how bad are the characters? As VB has indicated, the worse they are, the more upset the real life people are going to be at their depiction, but even something as apparently innocuous as adultery might be enough to distress someone who is deeply religious. The more upset someone is, the greater risk you run again.
  • how litigious are these people? Someone who is very laid back might take libellous depictions in his stride; someone who takes offence easily won't.
  • what country would you publish in? The libel laws in England and Wales are more generous to plaintiffs than those in the US as I understand it. Though having said that, if you publish in the US and it's read by someone in England, that could well give rise to a right of action here.
  • how much of a lawyer are you to defend yourself against a libel action if the worst happens?
My advice, keep the people you dislike in mind when writing the characters, but even if you're happy to make enemies and/or you want to offend these people, make very sure that you don't describe them in specific detail, plus change their personalities sufficiently that they're not recognised by themselves or by others who might tell them. And keep your fingers crossed.
Yes eventually I would want it to be published.

I wouldn't say recognizable in the sense that say in real life his name is George with a blonde fro, big buffy cheeks, glasses and blue eyes, who beats up his children and wife. And in the book I describe this guy named Georgie who's got big buffy cheeks, blonde fro, glasses and blue eyes who rapes his little children and forces them to perform oral engagement on him, beats up his wife and locks her in a cage so he can torture her and even beats and rapes the children's aunt every Friday night and he even killed their poor little gerbil. Then yes you could say that is very similar, but if I said his name was Phil, a sinister bad guy who was head of a criminal syndicate with extorting a super drug from a secret militia organization where he uses his victims to test this new super drugs abilities so he can take over the world and ruin lives to create super zombies or something and had blue or brown squinty eyes, blonde or black hair in a ponytail or man bun with a tattoo across his face and pointy face, would that still be too similar to him? Would there still be libel action against this?

It would be in the US
 

Reverent33345

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In my fictional writing, I have used a number of 'real bad and real good' people I know, however, I do not use their actual names, descriptions, locations, events, and so on. You don't need the potential for problems, and MOST importantly, you don't want to cast unjust aspersions based upon your assumptions on someone who you do NOT have the whole story about. If you know for an unquestionable fact, than great, call the police.
So if I just use different names, different locations, different descriptions like making them a bad guy of a different persona like say he's a fast food owner in real life and instead I make him a bad doctor? Or in real life he has long hair ad I give him short hair or beard or no beard or if he has no glasses I give him glasses, etc, does that work out ok?
 

-K2-

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So if I just use different names, different locations, different descriptions like making them a bad guy of a different persona like say he's a fast food owner in real life and instead I make him a bad doctor? Or in real life he has long hair ad I give him short hair or beard or no beard or if he has no glasses I give him glasses, etc, does that work out ok?
First off, the point of my post is to impress upon you that you do NOT want to unjustly accuse someone of things that you do not know for an unmitigated FACT. Also be sure, if you do try to use a little of this and a tad of that, you'll end up being more direct than you intend.

You're using some rather extreme examples. So, the first thing I would say is if you know a real-life person has committed serious criminal acts (meaning, you're willing to stand up in court), then call the police.

Frankly, if you're so intent upon using 'X' person to portray 'Y' circumstances, you can jimmy and twist all of the minutia all you want yet you're still using a real person... and someone might just figure it out. If you're so dead set on using that person because of those circumstances, then no matter how much you might want to paint it as something fictional, fact is you're wanting to report on real life.

So I say, either levy your accusations and face the consequences, or, let this one go and come up with something on your own.

K2
 

Phyrebrat

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There’s a painfully simple foundation to all this: ask yourself if your unpalatable character needs to look like someone who really exists.

I doubt the answer is ever yes.

Stop basing character’s looks on existing people and this becomes irrelevant. Which, tbh it is, because it’s quite frankly pointless let alone un-creative unless you’re writing biographies or memoirs.

If it helps you as a starting point for character devising, fine; I just don’t understand why it’s therefore important that they be indentified as their real life counterpart.

(Or maybe I’m missing something in the OP. ??)

pH
 

The Judge

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if I said his name was Phil, a sinister bad guy who was head of a criminal syndicate with extorting a super drug from a secret militia organization where he uses his victims to test this new super drugs abilities so he can take over the world and ruin lives to create super zombies or something and had blue or brown squinty eyes, blonde or black hair in a ponytail or man bun with a tattoo across his face and pointy face, would that still be too similar to him? Would there still be libel action against this?
There is always a risk, though it sounds a remote one in that case, but it depends on whether George would ever recognise himself. Even perhaps if he only thinks he recognises himself because you have Phil guzzling diet coke all the time which is what George does.

To my eye, George and Phil do sound very different. But that being the case, why are you bothering to base Phil on George?

By all means use other people as inspiration -- that's what we all do. But to be honest I think you're better off leaving George on the cutting room floor and making Phil a real character in his own right, not a cardboard cut-out of someone you dislike.
 

dannymcg

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To be honest I don't know, depends on a number of factors I think. But let's turn this around (and turn the dial up to 11 at first). Imagine you get a book written by a friend and a character turns up in in and you can clearly see that it's physically based on you - and they didn't tell you about this. Then as the book unfolds it turns out that this character is also a genocidal crypto-fascist paedophile with deformed genitalia and no redeeming qualities whatsoever. How would you feel about that?

Okay, that's a bit extreme. What if it was toned down. Your physical appearance but a wife/husband-beating drunk?
All you writers, please look at my picture:-

Make your bad guy look like me.
Give him my name.
Make him sick as f*ck.
Please and please
 

Reverent33345

Science fiction fantasy
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Ok I'm sorry I think some of you are missing the point. I have no desire to base my fictional characters on real people. I was just using a reference of inspiration based on someone or incident I knew of in real life and would fit an easy start of for creating a fictional bad demeanor. Didn't Steven King once write one of his novels based off a real incident or person he knew in real life which was turned into a monster? Didn't Lovecraft write novels based off his nightmare which he wrote into the Cthulhu myths and even James Cameron had created some of his movies like Terminator which was based off a guy that wanted to go after him or something like that? Can't life experiences sometimes be a good influence into writing your plots and help you come up with newer ideas?
 

Reverent33345

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Frankly, if you're so intent upon using 'X' person to portray 'Y' circumstances, you can jimmy and twist all of the minutia all you want yet you're still using a real person... and someone might just figure it out. If you're so dead set on using that person because of those circumstances, then no matter how much you might want to paint it as something fictional, fact is you're wanting to report on real life.

So I say, either levy your accusations and face the consequences, or, let this one go and come up with something on your own.

K2
But what if it's not a real person? It's not like a famous movie star, criminal or politician that is well known throughout the world. Only me and maybe a small handful of people would know but I would prevent that and get creative and not relate anything to the person/s name, job, lifestyle or bad things they've done in real life to my characters story, especially since if they already have an uncanny appearance that already suits a perfect story for a particular bad guy. Even the way they would talk, act I can get as creative can't I? Even with the appearance so it's barely even noticeable to even the real life person wouldn't even be able to pick up on it accept for me but I just find it an easier way to create a bad guy or villain since I'm not that great at just making one up from scratch, I'd just use this principal as an outline. Basically it wouldn't be that person in real life, only I could make that connection because I used it as a blue print for myself only.

There’s a painfully simple foundation to all this: ask yourself if your unpalatable character needs to look like someone who really exists.

I doubt the answer is ever yes.

Stop basing character’s looks on existing people and this becomes irrelevant. Which, tbh it is, because it’s quite frankly pointless let alone un-creative unless you’re writing biographies or memoirs.

If it helps you as a starting point for character devising, fine; I just don’t understand why it’s therefore important that they be indentified as their real life counterpart.

(Or maybe I’m missing something in the OP. ??)

pH
No I wouldn't make them the same as their real life counterpart at all. Just use a little reference to myself. I'd over exaggerate him tremendously from the real life counterpart and even change the looks up a bit, different tone, name, basically only things i could pick up on and then from their start creating my villain or bad character with ease because I can already relate to the idea. who's to say other bad guys and villains in stories, movies, shows and such were not based off of real life people? who's to say that Joffrey Baratheon wash;t based off someone in real life? Jack Torrance from the Shining has spawned many similar villainous and criminal fictionalized characters in many medias that were inspired by his character. Why is this ok?
 

EJDeBrun

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Ok I'm sorry I think some of you are missing the point. I have no desire to base my fictional characters on real people. I was just using a reference of inspiration based on someone or incident I knew of in real life and would fit an easy start of for creating a fictional bad demeanor. Didn't Steven King once write one of his novels based off a real incident or person he knew in real life which was turned into a monster? Didn't Lovecraft write novels based off his nightmare which he wrote into the Cthulhu myths and even James Cameron had created some of his movies like Terminator which was based off a guy that wanted to go after him or something like that? Can't life experiences sometimes be a good influence into writing your plots and help you come up with newer ideas?
I'm just going to put this out there:

I base all my characters on real people.

But not the petty details like looks or names or anything like that. I base my characters on real personalities I encounter because that is more interesting since how people are in real life is way beyond anything I could come up with on my own. It also helps me a lot when I'm stuck, particularly in dialogue.

As far as getting into any trouble about this. Well, whether I intend to or not, I find that as I write my story and my characters encounter different events, they morph away from the original people I based them on. In other words, now that I'm at the end, my characters barely resemble their inspirations at all.

But the core personality traits are there, and I think that's okay.

Do I worry about the people who inspired my characters recognizing them? To be honest, no. After all, my characters and their inspirations really don't resemble each other in their physical features or in their names. Also how I think people are in my own head differs dramatically from what they're actually like. And besides, no matter how I come up with a character and personality, there will be someone out there who resembles that to a T and that's just life.

Now of course, if you're really worried about writing a character that's too similar to someone you know, you could always reach out to the person who inspired and ask them what they think. I've done that with most of the people I base my characters on and none of them have given me the stink eye for it. Most of them get a kick out of it.

As far as villains go, I think it's fine to base them on real life, so long as you're only using them as a starting point and develop the character further as you go along. (but PLEASE do not use their real names. You want to give yourself some plausible deniability here) I also think it's interesting to combine personality traits for villains, so that's another option. Rather than just relying one person as inspiration, you pull from several different people, layer it together and mix yourself a really nice Baddie Smoothie that doesn't resemble the pieces you started with at all.

Anyways, those are my two (more serious) thoughts on the subject and good luck!
 

Reverent33345

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There is always a risk, though it sounds a remote one in that case, but it depends on whether George would ever recognise himself. Even perhaps if he only thinks he recognises himself because you have Phil guzzling diet coke all the time which is what George does.

To my eye, George and Phil do sound very different. But that being the case, why are you bothering to base Phil on George?

By all means use other people as inspiration -- that's what we all do. But to be honest I think you're better off leaving George on the cutting room floor and making Phil a real character in his own right, not a cardboard cut-out of someone you dislike.
What I'm saying is since I can relate to someone in real life that has done really bad things, I'm saying it would be an easier starting point to go from and for me to get really creative maybe even mixing up the idea of this guy say "Phils" appearance so it's not a dead on copy of say "George" or Timmy who was a bully at a job, school or home that loved to randomly punch and humiliate others and in the story he has a slight resemblance but is a different guy named Stanley who is an evil corporate executive that wants to turn everyone into his evil bottle cap worshipping regime, it really doesn't matter I can still get as creative as I want right?

All you writers, please look at my picture:-

Make your bad guy look like me.
Give him my name.
Make him sick as f*ck.
Please and please
Sorry sir, but you don't fit the character that I wanted to create for this ;/
 

Reverent33345

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I'm just going to put this out there:

I base all my characters on real people.

But not the petty details like looks or names or anything like that. I base my characters on real personalities I encounter because that is more interesting since how people are in real life is way beyond anything I could come up with on my own. It also helps me a lot when I'm stuck, particularly in dialogue.
Yes, like I said, I would not use real names, even alter up the looks a bit but use the looks as inspiration for making it easier for me to create that bad guy that is similar. The personalities I would easily use but not make it so obvious where that characters looks and personality is EXACTLY the same as that person in real life, I could base that one guys looks on a different bad persons personality, say he had the personality of Jack Torrance or Joffrey Baratheon or Agent Smith but looked similar to a bad guy I know in real life? But also had a different backstory than that real life counterpart?

As far as getting into any trouble about this. Well, whether I intend to or not, I find that as I write my story and my characters encounter different events, they morph away from the original people I based them on. In other words, now that I'm at the end, my characters barely resemble their inspirations at all.
This could probably being the end result with my character.

But the core personality traits are there, and I think that's okay.
Which would be fine then?

Do I worry about the people who inspired my characters recognizing them? To be honest, no. After all, my characters and their inspirations really don't resemble each other in their physical features or in their names. Also how I think people are in my own head differs dramatically from what they're actually like. And besides, no matter how I come up with a character and personality, there will be someone out there who resembles that to a T and that's just life.
Exactly! This was the point I was trying to make and it's the way I see them in my own head will differ compared to others like those who might know them in real life, since it's me creating it and having fun with it and if there is any slight resemblance then they should just deal with it and I'd be quite surprised if strangers that don't even know this persons real life influenced counterpart would actually take offense to it. I'd find that really strange and that maybe they have some weird phobia issue or insecurity going on. It seems that everyone on here already assumed that I was going to base some guy on the exact name, town, job, and or cruel actions this person has taken and emulate it to be completely identical to that person. Thank you for understanding me better.

Now of course, if you're really worried about writing a character that's too similar to someone you know, you could always reach out to the person who inspired and ask them what they think. I've done that with most of the people I base my characters on and none of them have given me the stink eye for it. Most of them get a kick out of it.
It depends who I ask, if it's someone who's not so bad but they had this personality and presence about them where they were sort of hostile or did some pretty dumb stupid things that would fit depending on the character I wanted to create, then sure I would not see this as a problem. But if it's someone who had done far worse and really fits the bill of a true life evil villain counterpart, like even the things they do and say fit so perfectly yet they're not a nice person to talk to or get feedback from then I say the heck with it and do it on my own. I'd still make sure not to make it so obvious. Have you ever been in this situation?

As far as villains go, I think it's fine to base them on real life, so long as you're only using them as a starting point and develop the character further as you go along. (but PLEASE do not use their real names. You want to give yourself some plausible deniability here) I also think it's interesting to combine personality traits for villains, so that's another option. Rather than just relying one person as inspiration, you pull from several different people, layer it together and mix yourself a really nice Baddie Smoothie that doesn't resemble the pieces you started with at all.
I wouldn't. Like I used as an example before since neither George or Phil is a real person but pretend George is real and I change his name to Phil, problem solved right? Yep I was already thinking of that, so this character would not be a carbon copy of that real persons personality but I can mix the personality with other real ones or even other fictional characters personalities mixed in with his so it's more plausible and less resemblance. Like a baddie smoothie mixed into a blender with different villains combined, see there is nothing wrong with this idea right?

Anyways, those are my two (more serious) thoughts on the subject and good luck!
Thank you! I appreciate the good feedback you have given me.
 
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