Author Matthew W Harrill

Real People – Basing Your Characters

Horror Author Matthew W Harrill

Real People

Were I well known, I would be well known for taking people around me, and introducing them into my books as characters. Sometimes just by name, but sometimes as a fully developed person in their own right.

But how real do you get? I believe that the key is as with places you use as locations in your story. Protect yourself by not focussing on the negative. That could lead to lawsuits for slander. To me, real people, as much as real places make for a more immersive experience. The better I know them, the better you know them.

As it stands, my own name has been used in more than one book by my mentor and very good friend Dave Wolverton. Mad King Harrill is referenced several times in the early Runelords books. Matt Harrill is a character in Dave’s books based in ‘The Mummy’ series of books, being best friend to Alex, the son. My crowning glory is the creation of ‘Lord Harrill’ in the Runelords game boy game that never made it to production. I believe I have the only copy. These are all good references, use of my name, but set in a context that is fantastic, and from the mind of its creator. Artistic license is king.

But in a real world setting, or at least as much as my world is real, you sometimes have to be a bit more careful. Here are some examples of characters already used and about to appear, and how I have adapted them.

Zoe Larter

Real 1

We meet Zoe in Hellborne (that’s not her, but a very rough likeness). The woman is vindictive, power hungry, and once she learns of Madden’s origins, desperate to dig her claws into him, and even more desperate to exploit the power of the Hellbounce. She is in every way a nasty piece of work.

In real life, the Zoe Larter couldn’t be further from that if she tried. Absolutely delightful, generous, and the little sister of one of my oldest friends. I must admit, a little nonplussed at being a bad character. There is a warning there for you. If you know someone and choose to use their name as an antagonist, ask first!

 John Wolverton

Real 2

Here is a scribble I jotted down for John Wolverton, the leader of The Shikari, a task force of elite soldiers heavily involved in the upcoming ‘Hellbeast’. The image is based on a guy I walk past on the way to work. He is enormous, tattoos all down his arms and legs, great boots, massive beard. I would not mess with him. In my mind as soon as I saw him he was destined to lead. The real man… who knows? But the image is one aspect only. The name comes from my mentor, and the first name of a guy I catch the bus to work with. With this in mind, there are no characteristics that relate to any of the real people in this creation. John Wolverton the character comes entirely from my own mind.

Rachelle Bishop

Real 3

So Rachelle Bishop is a badass in Hellbeast. She is a right amazon of a warrior, as tough as they come. Unrelenting, focussed, a great soldier. The real Rachelle Bishop is an absolute delight. She was lucky enough to win a competition I was running to have her name used in the book, and aside from hair colour and name, that’s where the comparison ends. Personally I think she likes the Hyde to her Jekyll.


The sniper. Please excuse my scribble of this man. It will mean a lot more to me than it does to you. Very unassuming, wears headphones. Walks past me most days again on the way to my day job (yes people, Matt isn’t quite the full time author we would all like him to be. That’s why the books take a year to come out.)

Real 4 Real 5

He wears a red t-shirt fairly often with the monument used at the end of ‘Close Encounters’. I see the man (let’s call him for the sake of argument ‘Steve’) as Scope, and were I to stop him (and ‘John Wolverton’ for that case), he would probably look at me like I am insane. Aren’t we all? This is possibly the better way to go in terms of creating characters. A physical description of a person you do not know, and more than likely has no chance of ever knowing you, interacting with you, or even recognising themselves were they to read your story.

Ellen Covlioni

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Now in Ellen, I wanted someone quite striking with obvious intelligence. There is a teacher at my kids school who is getting on in age, with grey hair, and yet she has a really youthful face. I just wanted a character like that. So I went looking on the internet with the search ‘Old lady young face’ – I found this picture. Now I have no idea who this woman is, but she fit the bill perfectly. She is real. She is unknown to me.

Looking up at these examples, it is clear to me that anonymity is a great basis for creative license. Be wary of real people’s reactions to being used. But don’t be afraid to draw upon everybody around you (he says having based all the bad traits of a book 2 antagonist on the reactions of his own wife to when he annoys her…)




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