Characters are a reflection of life – have fun with it!

Writing is about realising dreams – my dream of being a writer, my dream world, and also the dreams of who I wish to be, reflected through characters.

One of the joys of being a writer is being able to be the person you always wanted to be through your characters. You can create someone who, in your own head, is a reflection of yourself, you can make them look as you always wanted to look and give them the characteristics you always wanted to have.

The patchwork character

That’s a simplification, of course. The reality is, you spread these things about through different characters. You also “borrow” from friends and family for other aspects. When I created the royal children in the Bremmand Chronicles, a number of character traits of my own family were used.

Joss, in The Line of Duty, was how I remember myself when I was small – the youngest of three, tagging along behind, trying to keep up and wanting to be involved but too young for much of it. I’ve borrowed from events of my childhood too.

The chapter “Stinkworm” is based on a real incident involving a stuffed toy and a pretend christening ceremony. In the subsequent books, Joss has always had a lot of the traits I wish for myself – she is bold and courageous and determined. I’d love to be like her!

Aspirations in characters

Characters often stand for something the author aspires to and I’m no exception here. Dale is strength and stability; Allin is passion and faith; Torvik is loyalty and resilience. In each of these cases, part of the reason those characters evolved as they did has been to reflect those characteristics which I wish for myself.

Creating characters also allows you to write out some of the darker times of your life. In Age of Oppression, there is a sequence of events which have elements of my experiences. It is far more extreme but it provides me with a feeling of justice over something that was never fully resolved in my youth. Knowing that this plot was ahead of me has shaped some of the characters in the earlier books.

When the characters take over

What is strange is how characters find their own path as if they have lives of their own. I once heard Gerry Anderson, saying he’d changed the plot because he didn’t like the personality of John.

To my non-writing friend, this seemed crazy. Why not just change the character? But I knew exactly what Anderson meant.

Characters grow and develop and, to some extent, become real and you can’t always control that. In Twelve Moon-Cycles, Nollan was supposed to be a minor character – just there to give a bit of colour. Then, as the plot developed, he became more than that and a fully formed person appeared. In Bremmand Lives an entire story revolves around him and in Balance of Betrayal he featured even more. I have no idea how he came to be like that or why – he just is.


The dynamics between characters is finely balanced. You need to be very sure of who each of them is and what motivates them. It does evolve as you write, but understanding the basic elements of the main protagonists before you start writing is critical.

I learned this in the writing of Balance of Betrayal particularly. With most of my books, I have a clear plot and I’m certain of my main character’s motivations and purpose. With Balance of Betrayal while I knew the outcome, none of the other elements were in place. I created characters in order to reach the end point and gave them personalities but they were sketches. As I was writing, I found I didn’t understand their motivations. As a result they were inconsistent and did things that made no sense. Count Pholem, for example, would sneer and stir up trouble but I didn’t know why.

It came to me later, of course, and by the second round of edits, the story and characters came together – but it was a hard realisation.

Moral of the story? Invest time in understanding who your characters are and where they are coming from before you try to make them do things on the written page. They will resist!

Like any creative process, a writer invests themselves in their writing – but it isn’t transparent. I am there, on the pages of all of my books, being a better version of myself or expunging things I regret. If you ever meet me, however, don’t expect to recognise me from the characters on the page. I, like them, develop and evolve in unexpected directions!

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