Each month, Novelista Annie Burrows shares insights into her writing life. In a sort of alphabetical order. This month the letter C, which is for...Characters.
Not long ago I joined a reading group. Quite a literary one. I was hoping to stretch my mind a little, by reading more challenging books than I'd normally choose. But what I've gained from attending has been so much more. Discussing books with others has reminded me what readers are looking for in a book.
Time and time again, it hasn't been the cleverness of the prose, or originality of the plots, or evocative descriptive passages that have sparked off the most heated discussions. No - it's been the likeability of the characters. No matter how well written a book, if we don't find something about the main characters to like, we won't give the book a high mark. But we think of the whole book with fondness if we connect with the main characters.
This is one of the reasons Jane Austen's books have prompted so many people to write sequels, or spin-offs. Her characters are so well-drawn that they not only come to life on the page, but often take on a life of their own. A lot of us want to know what happens after Lizzie and Mr Darcy get married, and will gladly read books, or watch films where they go on expeditions to Egypt, solve murders, or even fight zombies.
Oh, I want to create characters like that! Characters that step right off the page and take on a life of their own. Long ago, I realized that I don't have a gift for writing descriptive passages, or thinking up cleverly twisty plots with a surprise at the end. but anyway, I would rather my readers empathize so deeply with my heroines that they will laugh with them, weep with them, and fall a little bit in love with the heroes who stride manfully into their life and make their hearts flutter.
So I spend ages reading books on psychology, problem pages in the backs of women's magazines (because aren't a lot of the problems in them caused by partners?) and life stories of people who lived during the Regency era, to learn how they would have treated the problems life threw at them.
I also read other writer's tips on how to create characters that will come to life in a reader's imagination. Just this week, I've discovered fellow Harlequin writer Annie West's website, on which she gives some very useful advice about creating heroes. All of which could apply to Mr Darcy.