“On the whole publishers do a very good job. Any fool can write a novel but it takes real genius to sell it.” J.G. Ballard. Remind me never to read his novels.
“You are much more likely to depict a character who is a recognisable human being, with his own individuality, if you have a living model. The imagination can create nothing out of the void.” Somerset Maugham.
Despite the wealth of raw material to draw on, creating memorable characters is almost as difficult as turning mercury into gold. The art lies not in disguising the real source of inspiration, but in the fusion of observation with imagination, in the melding of details and the emphasis on what makes a person distinctive. The best novelists would make excellent psychologists. They know how to encapsulate a person in a few sentences, they understand what makes them unique, and they can predict how they’d behave. It’s a scary thought, particularly if you’ve got one in the family. Perhaps the most distinctive aspect of well-drawn literary characters is that they take on a life of their own. A A Milne’s Christopher Robin said wistfully that a character, if based on real life, grows up and out of his part. So because they are timeless, fictional characters can sometimes wield more influence than real people. That’s certainly the belief of a French mayor I’ve heard of who hands out copies of Madame Bovary to all newly married couples in his town. The effect this has on their honeymoon has, sadly, never been recorded.