This isn’t something I think about often because I write fantasy, most often with a set of completely fictional characters. It’s not uncommon, however, for people to incorporate people in their lives into their writing in some way.
For example, writers often take traits from people they know (either desirable or undesirable depending on the character) and giving them to their characters. Doing this achieves several things, but most notably it gives fictional characters a touch of realism. Sure you can create a character with characteristics you’ve never seen or experienced firsthand, but like describing a location you’ve never been do, doing so can create some inaccuracies that the people who have are likely to catch.
I’m guilty of doing this because I know that it works. Taking one real trait you’ve experienced and slapping it onto a character that’s otherwise completely fictional can add some much-needed depth to a character that otherwise doesn’t have much going for them.
Some people write about characters completely based off of people they’ve met or heard of in real life. Personally, I don’t do this because in the world of fantasy, too much realism can ruin the experience (at least in my opinion). Don’t take me the wrong way– I just think there’s a huge difference between authentic experiences and realism. Anyway, especially when you’re just learning how to write, taking someone you know and throwing them into a fictional story can open your eyes to how story building and characterization really work. You might not run into issues deciding what your character would or wouldn’t do in a situation (if you know them well enough, the decision might even seem natural to you) but that only helps you spend more time writing and less time thinking. Not necessarily a bad thing, no?
Then we have writing about real people in real situations. I think you can do some really good stuff with this so long as you’re not writing in any genre that disallows “real situations” (I mean, your typical fantasy isn’t going to have a situation where a main character meets someone while working on their computer at Starbucks, so yeah). I don’t have too much to say about this because it’s not my cup of tea. But people do it and have found success in it– so why not?
Do you guys write about purely fictional people or do you try to take characteristics from people you know and add them to your characters?