Event report

Conference 2011 - Creating believable characters

Report published 23 September 2011

Rachel Summerson : Creating believable characters.

Creating convincing characters is something Rachel Summerson should know a lot about with over ten years of experience reading Mss for aspiring novelists both within and outside of the RNA. The aim of her talk was to save us from creating wooden or two-dimensional characters and was divided up into three main sections, the heroine, the hero and minor characters.

She explained to us how important it is that the hero and heroine are attractive, interesting and have enough redeeming features to make us love them. For example even Jane Austen’s Emma, although a manipulative snob is very kind to her querulous and hypochondriac father. Heroines also need to have the quality of ‘stickability’ in difficult or challenging situations. Take Tess in Freya North’s book, Secrets, for example, who although hounded by debt and bailiffs is prepared to support her daughter whatever happens.

Creating a believable Alpha Male character can be difficult as there is often an uneasy tension between making him both charismatic and dangerous at the same time. He must be seen to be able to fail without this being an emasculating process and be capable of loving and being loved if he’s going to be credible. If you are writing a Mills and Boon novel such an Alpha Male character is not only desirable but absolutely essential. The writer must succeed in making him both sexually attractive but good husband material too, even if he doesn’t know it himself. There must be enough scenes to show off all his character facets and different capabilities and he must have a quest or goal in life which makes him three-dimensional.

Minor characters cannot be two dimensional either. Although the reader doesn’t need to know a great deal about them they can be useful vehicles for moving on the plot. Rachel made no apologies for talking to us at length about the role of them in a novel. She explained to us that a well-drawn minor character is able to illuminate either some facet or other of a major character or situation and can help quite considerably to make a book saleable or not.

For example we learn a whole different and redeeming side to Mr Darcy’s character in Pride and Prejudice from Mrs Reynolds, the housekeeper at Pemberley. Also when Fanny Price in Mansfield Park returns to Portsmouth for a brief stay with her birth family we see their dreadful deficiencies through the eyes of Fanny as typified by the loud, slovenly ways of the family’s servant, Rebecca.

In summary, Rachel told us that we need to make sure all our characters, major or minor, behave consistently throughout the story and fully inhabit their own worlds.

Written by Sheila Johnson

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