Face-to-Face with a Villain

I’m sure I’m not the only writer grabbing bits and pieces from real life to add texture — and verisimilitude — to my fiction. I’ve called myself a “story vampire” for years and my nearest and dearest know that I’ll suck the life out of their tidbits, transforming chatter into stories.

On occasion I base the appearance of a character on someone real. It’s rarely a person I know well and it much more likely a face familiar from my neighborhood.

New York is a large city, but like most large cities it’s really many, many smaller neighborhoods and locals tend to spend most of our time in a limited number of geographic areas. You might have a home neighborhood, a work neighborhood, a comfort zone near your best friend’s place, familiar turf in the area where your lover lives, a few blocks around a doctor’s office, a favorite museum or a similar selection of “hoods.”

Since I live and work in my tiny, studio apartment, go to a gym two blocks away and I have breakfast at a coffee bar in-between, a good deal of my life takes place in a relatively small piece of the city. Fortunately, it’s a lively part of town with lots of interesting faces.

In the upcoming MONSTER — my take on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde — I based the appearance of a villainous character on a woman at my gym. I’ve also seen her at the coffee bar where I go after the gym and, very rarely, on the street in the neighborhood.

This particular older woman has a distinctive appearance — half Village chic and half zoned-out peculiar. She wears a great deal of make-up at the gym, has at least one tattoo and sometimes she’s just not quite there. At least that’s what I thought.

After I finished the first draft of the novella, I saw her a few times at the coffee bar. Her affect was slightly disturbing. But the other day she talked to me. I was stretching at the gym and she admired my flexibility. She had a sweet voice and a gentle manner. She was nice — but she was also my villain. She was the character come to life.

What a freaky experience!


  1. That would be enough to blow your mind. Next time you see her you should ask what she does for a living. If she mentions anything about a lab, run for your life.

    • Candy

      LOL… She’s definitely retired. She’s older and was working with one of the trainers who is particularly gentle with older people. He was working on hand eye coordination, balance…I’m guessing she’s over 70…probably a lot.

      But, of course, there’s the discontinuity between her sweet personality and the affected persona with the layers of makeup and chic hair and a tat. That’s why she was so tempting as a villain. I needed a particular age and… Well, when you read it you’ll know why.

  2. Poor woman! Little does she know she’s been immortalized as a baddie. 😀
    I don’t normally weave people I know into my stories, but the other day I realised I’d stolen bits from my grandmother for one of the characters in the new short story I wrote for Postcards. The weird thing is I didn’t notice as I was writing the story. It only hit me afterwards. The subconscious is a wonderful thing.

    Btw, how is the lovely Mrs Hyde coming along?

    • Candy

      I do feel a tiny bit guilty, but it’s not possible for anyone to pick her out so I guess I’m good.

      Dr. Hyde, yes my title is “The Strange Case of Dr. Hyde and her Friends,” is out of my hands at the moment. Being read by my agent. (Or on her to-be-read-list). Down the road, we hope to put the MONSTERS together in a conventional book. In the meantime, I hope to release it the indie route before the end of the year.

  3. I need to stop weaving in people I know so well into my stories. I like your approach of going with those you interact with on a limited basis as a source of inspiration. That’s where my man with the muscle car came from in my story “Pretty Girl.” I actually saw a nice-looking, although scruffy man, pumping gas who complimented me and creeped me out at the same time when I was a tenneager, and that was it… but it was enough to provide a spark for a story.

    • Candy

      Yes, I do try to avoid people recognizing themselves.
      Of course there are exceptions. In the Dr. Hyde book a series of pivotal scenes take place at a hotel bar where a good friend of mine works. I asked her and she agreed to let me pattern a character after her and even share the first name. I hope Lisa will get a kick out of being a character in the story — now that she agreed to it. As her character is very much like her and is a positive influence throughout the story, I think she’ll be happy about it.

      I don’t think I’d risk making one of my friends a killer, an evil vampire, or the victim of a serial killer. It would be entirely too awkward. LOL!