We all know that unless we care about a character and find them and their actions credible, we won’t care what happens to them; in other words we won’t care about the events, the story. This is pretty fundamental so how do we ensure the characters we create drive our story forward?
Let’s look at psychopathic bad boy Glock, the villain you love to hate in my forthcoming Miss Widow novel. He’s a fine example of a character the reader engages with not because he’s admirable or because one can relate to him, but for exactly the opposite reasons – he is fascinatingly evil and nothing like us; we enjoy spending time with him on the page because we’d run a mile from him in real life.

  • Glock is simple and single-minded; his character needs to be established in a focussed, similarly single-minded way. For example, when it comes to dominoes, Glock likes to play ‘Cut-throat’ style, for himself, not in collaboration with a partner. It’s a detail that speaks powerfully to character; the name reflects metaphorically on his nature too. We don’t need to know that he also plays Ludo! Tip: every detail, action, speech that you give to your character must be relevant to his personality and motivations as they relate to story.
  • Glock wants power so he can get money, cars, gold, girls, but when I dug a little deeper I realised he wants all these things to command respect from his nasty little low-life peers. Tip: Go beyond what your characters want and need, to why they want or need it.
  • For all his casual, callous cruelty, Glock is actually a damaged child, still smarting from the injustice and violence his uncaring father meted out to him; a beating he got for stealing flour when he was five and hungry is still raw in his memory. Tip: Find the moment that changed your character and created their need. Be specific.
  • Look deeper still and you realise Glock wants love, or at least he needs it, however tough he thinks he is. His tragedy is that his desire for respect leads him to destroy the one person who is offering him unconditional love ­– his girl, Winsome. When his friends tell him she’s laughing at him, it’s inevitable that he’ll turn on her. This is his Shakespearian fatal flaw, which proves to be his downfall. Tip: The conflict between a want and a need may energise your story.
  • A series of dramatic events arise from the actions Glock’s wants set in motion. These events test him and push him further away from attaining what he needs. These events similarly test the other main protagonists and make them question their choices and dictate their actions i.e. Miss Widow is forced to pick up a gun again; her friend Kim realises that a woman can have too much excitement. Tip: Your reader will engage with the plot if it is driven by the characters and challenges their motivations. A series of complicated events, however exciting, will just be an empty plot superimposed on the story without this relationship to character.

Ardella Jones
Ardella will be teaching a series of workshops about deep character on our Country House Character Creation Day Saturday 16 July in rural Kent. Email ardella@chalkthesun.co.uk for information and bookings