All my books are available from:

About Me

My photo
I am a writer - late developer since I wasn't published until I was 50. I have now written 23 novels, numerous short stories and articles.


Blog Archive

Powered by Blogger.
Sunday 6 December 2009
Reasons for actions. Pause for a moment and see if you can think of anything you do without a reason for doing it? From doing a 5 mile run in the morning or not doing it. From shopping at Tesco rather than Waitrose. Of choosing a blue jumper over a yellow one. Of not answering the phone or rushing to do so. With the little things you are not necessarily conscious of why you do something, but there’s always a reason. Right down to why you scratched - because you had an itch. And so it is with fictional characters but more so. Everything your character does in the tale you have given them is for a reason; you don’t waste time and words on actions that have no relevance or reason to the plot, to the character you have created. For example, you might answer the phone and it’s a wrong number - but characters in books don’t. Unless the wrong number has a significance, then it becomes relevant. Drinking tea, coffee, gin. Often characters in books do a lot of tea consuming. Fine, people do. But we don’t simply want the information they are having a cup of tea but rather why are they? What use is it? What information does it give us other than they are thirsty? No, we need to know the reason they have stopped, they are not allowed to simply enjoy the tea but we use it, perhaps for them to be thinking, and thus give us information. Making Characters Real. People in books, no matter how realistic we kid ourselves they are, are not real. They are amalgams, they are fictional. If you wrote a real person exactly as they are it is doubtful that they would appear at all “real” and probably they would be immeasurably boring. So, what do we do, we exaggerate them. You don’t need to go as far as Dickens did, but at the same time, these fictional people truly are larger than life. The danger is to make them into caricatures, or clichés - so we need to keep a watch on ourselves that we are not doing that. Also we avoid the risk of making them too similar so that the reader becomes confused as to who is who? How? I give them little tics so one is differentiated from another - fiddling with hair, whistling, nervous cough etc. Emotional Intensity. Something else to think about - often these characters we create lead lives of such emotional intensity that it is unlikely that a real person could sustain the pressure without being hospitalised. To maintain the pace we hurl incidents at them at an alarming rate. To get it all in within the confines of the size of the book - drama, emotional crises, tragedy or happy incidents will follow in quick succession. (Another thought, aren’t we clever to do it and yet have the reader unaware of the artificiality that it is? Time for a mutual pat on our backs.) Handsome? Ugly? There is always the danger that you know these people so well that you forget the reader doesn’t. We need to know what they look like, and in that we don’t mean just the colour of their hair and eyes. We need to know their size, the shape of their face, how they walk, how they sit, the sound of their voice, their laugh . . . a myriad things. Please don’t fall into the trap of a clichéd appearance – the feisty girl with red hair and green eyes; the dumb blonde. You can do better than that. Flaws. Are you perfect? Do you admit to certain flaws? And so it is with fictional characters. Why do we give our characters flaws. Because without them they would not be real. Without them you risk them being boring. With flaws you give motivation to a character perhaps the desire to overcome them. Or from their reaction to these flaws you give substance and motivation to other characters you are writing. You write a bad person and you grab the interest of the reader for their flaws alone. Even if you have a perfect person, for e.g a nun, This nun is saintly but how much more appealing she will be if she has a little flaw - perhaps an addiction for jelly babies. But you could also have an apparently saintly nun whose flaw is for gossip, or envy and again she becomes far more interesting. You can use the big flaws to your advantage too. For it will give you a greater understanding of the person. Why is a woman promiscuous. Why has another had an affair. Why is someone an alcoholic. Problems and the solving of them will be affected by the flaws you choose to give a character. One who worries is going to have a bigger problem dealing with bankruptcy rather than the one who never worries about anything. The jealous woman is going to be more suspicious of her man returning late than one who does not know what jealousy is. Dealing with conflict aided or hindered by character flaws will add to the conflict and thus the pace.


  1. This has come at a perfect time for me. I'm nearly at the end of my first draft... and my brain is sorting through all the things that I need to go back and sort... among which is the MC's character.

    This has given me lots of material to consider. Thank you.

  2. Terrific post, as always. I bet a hundred people could read this and take away a hundred different things.

    Appearance, for example. I always forget readers don't know my people like I know them.

    Sigh. Back to the ms.

  3. Henriette Gyland8 December 2009 at 13:05

    As always your posts are succinct and to the point. Certainly made me think about my characters.

    I know I'm terribly guilty of letting mine sit around drinking numerous cups of tea while they work through their issues. I need to get them "moving" more, get them out of domestic settings, do something different with their hands etc.

    Thank you.

  4. Now this post has me thinking about my OTHER character. I now realize he's too boring, and it struck me rather quickly that he needs a good flaw!