What is the right answer?
Never, of course, the truth.
Especially, if your book contains sex scenes.
People don’t want to think that you wrote without their influence, or that they did not inspire you. Nor do people want to think that that character you gently (or perhaps ruthlessly) mocked is them. Also, they have their own ideas about who they are. I once commented that one character was based very loosely on my best friend, to which my partner loudly exclaimed, “No she isn’t!” Of course. How wrong I was about my own writing process.
And of course, the big danger with writing first-person narrative, as illustrated perfectly by a close friend who read the book exclaiming as she stepped off the train in a crowded public place, “Guinevere is YOU,” (to the bafflement of the people around us), is that everyone assumes that you are writing exactly what you think and feel. Well, after she had recounted her recent adventures to me, I pointed out to her that Guinevere was possibly also her, which she did not seem too put out about (of course).
We love to imagine ourselves in fictional places, in fabulous worlds, and the thought that someone else has imagined us there too is kind of exciting. I feel the same thing, too. That longing for escape.
Still, what does it mean that we are always looking for ourselves, and those we know in fictional characters? Why did my friends have a few drinks and ask me which character in the book was my partner? (Spoiler: none – they’re all made up. From my imagination. Like all fiction) Which were them?
The fact is that the characters we write, like the characters we project of ourselves and imagine of our friends, are always necessarily a composite. A combination of what we have read, what we have seen and what we have imagined of the interior lives of our friends, both real and literary. But we want to know. We want to know because we want to see what ‘type’ our friends see us as. I understand that.
Still, I’ll never tell. They would all be too offended.