Frank Fiore – Novelist & Screenwriter

August 13, 2013

Famous Literary Characters and Their Real-Life Inspirations

Filed under: Frank Remarks,On Writing — Frank Fiore @ 4:39 PM

So where did some famous writers get inspiration for their characters? Ever wonder that? I sneak in little tidbits of inspired characters in my novels. But as of yet, only a few readers have discovered them.

But what the hell. I’m not famous yet.

So let’s look at some famous examples of literary characters and their real-life inspirations.

Let’s take Alice in Alice in Wonderland.

Alice Liddell was the inspiration and namesake for Lewis Carroll’s children’s classic Alice in Wonderland. Carroll, then known as Charles Dodgson, was close with the Liddell family and when 10-year-old Alice begged for a story, Dodgson began to spin his famous tale of Alice and what happened after she fell through the rabbit hole. Unlike previous stories he had told her, she asked him to write it down. The rest, as they say, is history.

And how about Moby Dick – or in real life ‘Mocha Dick’.

Mocha Dick was an albino sperm whale who lived in the early 19th century, so-named because he tended to frequent the balmy waters near the island of Mocha, off southern Chile. Of him, explorer Jeremiah N. Reynolds wrote, “This renowned monster, who had come off victorious in a hundred fights with his pursuers, was an old bull whale, of prodigious size and strength. From the effect of age, or more probably from a freak of nature… a singular consequence had resulted – he was white as wool!” Needless to say, Melville drew on the notoriety of Mocha Dick as well as his own seafaring experiences for his classic novel.

Then we have Long John Silver.

When Robert Louis Stevenson was trying to come up with a good villain for Treasure Island, he was inspired by his friend, William Ernest Henley, an English poet, critic and editor, a jovial fellow who had had his left leg amputated from the knee after a childhood bout of tuberculosis.

And then we have Severus Snape

When Rowling admitted that Snape was “loosely based on a teacher I myself had,” the press tracked down John Nettleship, who taught Rowling Chemistry at Wyedean School near Chepstow. When first approached, he was surprised, explaining, “I was horrified when I first found out. I knew I was a strict teacher but I didn’t think I was that bad.” In retrospect, however, he admitted that he was “a short-tempered chemistry teacher with long hair…[and a] gloomy, malodorous laboratory,” which seems pretty on-point.

And finally we have Ebenezer Scrooge.

Evidence suggests that Charles Dickens based legendary miser Ebenezer Scrooge on the 18th century politician John Elwes, who had inherited a fortune but was loath to spend a single penny, preferring to live as if in poverty, squatting in empty apartments. 

There you have it. So next time you are around a writer, take head to what I say on one of my t-shirts:

‘Watch what you do. You may wind up in one of my novels’.




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