I'll admit that sometimes I have a sick desire to release some burning feelings of love, hate or anything in between, so I create characters and channel that into them. It's like being eleven years old and making a family on the Sims which consisted of a virtual me, the boy I fancied that week and a couple of playground besties, moving them into a mansion and having them shun their neighbour who was invented as a tribute to my classroom nemesis. It's like having that neighbour nemesis go for a swim and then removing the ladder into the pool. It's like having virtual me and the boy flirt-flirt-flirt-joke-joke-joke, kiss-kiss-kiss-Woo Hoo! It's therapeutic and satisfying beyond belief. If I'm angry with someone, I can just put them on the page and put them through it. If someone I care about is having a tough time and I can't help, I shower them with support and affection, and make good things happen to them on paper.
Mind you, sometimes I don't want to be too blatant. I'll base a character on someone I know, but not in such a way that it's glaringly obvious to anyone reading who may know said someone... For instance, someone I create who lives by the sea and has faded dip-dyed red hair, or someone who writes, pulls pints and loves macaroons, or someone who has terrible taste in girls and rides a yellow motorbike. Subtle enough that select few will get it, others will just breeze on past it.
However, sometimes my peers deserve more than just a gentle nod in their direction. Only once or twice I've actually named a character after a peer, made sure they look just the same, and given them similar or identical traits and interests. I always panic when doing this, though, because surely if I'm too specific I'll be watched like a hawk, and if I get something wrong or the character goes through some shit, I'll get some flack. Also, I worry that there are some people in my life to whom I could never do justice. There are some magical individuals I could never capture in mere adjectives and actions; some despicable idiots I'd never convey my disdain for convincingly enough.
When writing my ECP, a piece of YA fiction entitled 'Everyone Else', almost every single person... Was a real person. The story came about on its own, with a little helping hand from reality. My protagonist could easily have been me, although the idea was that not enough about her was revealed so nobody can ever know for certain; a sweet introverted barista came into her life when I met my boyfriend, a mysterious too-cool colleague of hers actually would work shifts with me most nights, an art school student friend she'd only see once in a while for peppermint tea was a girl in my GCSE Art Textiles class, and a cocky playboy antagonist was of course a culmination of several men I've encountered in the past few years.
+++ When I handed in the finished product, the weight falling away as I walked to the bar for my victory latte, it occurred to me that I should really set about creating an online presence for this piece. Not only do I love my blogging, but I'd also have the chance to create visuals of my characters - I could actually ask friends of mine, some of whom the characters were based on and some of whom had the perfect look, to pose for photos! So over the course of a week or so, I was frantically snapping and papping my beautiful and helpful friends who agreed to be my models. Before long after they were immortalised, they were edited and uploaded. I can never thank them enough.
http://and-everyone-else.blogspot.co.uk/ (Siân, Beat and Cole are who they are; Nett and Theo are interpretations - much more gorgeous than the original people, mind!)
I think every character I've written in the past has been (loosely at least) based on someone in 'real life'. Either that, or they are the embodiment of my deepest desires or pet hates. I could never just pull a whole person out of thin air, give them a generic name and simple appearance, and send them on their way. I agonise over naming characters - still caught in that classic childish minefield of not wanting to name them after people in my class/lectures/workplace unless they are meant to be that person in some sense, and not wanting them to have too-boring or too-obscure names. I'd also hate it if I finally settled on names, then kicked myself as I saw that they in fact echoed another piece of work myself or someone else put out there (in a piece I am currently writing, I named my two main characters Thomas, Thom for short, and Summer, Sum for short, then realised I was letting my love of 500 Days of Summer seep into my own work - also Thom and Sum are a strange pair of names when said together - damn it).
Creating people, making characters, is one of the biggest perks and most underrated delights of being a writer. We get to invent our own worlds, universes, and populate them with our own beings. Although I personally cannot create without a little real-life inspiration - be it how things are, how I wish they'd be or how I'd hate them to be - some people have the power to bring things out of the clear blue, or out of the dark... I only hope that someday I can do that, too. I still have a way to go. Until then, I'll carry on creating my way.