What to do if your characters aren't compelling

Your characters are, arguably, the most important part of your book, and they need to be interesting and likeable, otherwise the reader won't want to read about them.

Here are some of the most common problems with characters and how to fix them

a) Your characters are unlikeable

i) Your hero is unlikeable

The most common reason for a hero being unlikeable is that he is a bully

Arrogant or overbearing heroes are popular in historical romance, but if you go too far he will come across as a bully and the reader won't like him. If your hero is coming over as too agressive, consider the following solutions

  • If he explodes at the heroine, don't let him go over the top. A little bit of arrogance goes a long way, and one or two sentences will demonstrate his character just as much as a page of ranting.

  • Make sure he is not bad tempered when there is no reason for it.

  • Give him some scenes in which he is nice, to counterbalance his arrogant/angry scenes

  • Give him a reason for his outbursts. Perhaps he fears for the heroine's safety. Or perhaps a situation reminds him of something else in his life, and he is reacting to that, rather than to the immediate situation. If this is the case, then give a hint of it in a few words, eg

    She sensed he was reacting to something else, something he remembered, and wondered what incident from his past could have left such a deep impression on him that he carried it with him still.

    Or perhaps simply have her thinking

    What had made him so bad tempered?

    If you do this, you will reassure the reader that there is a reason for his outbursts, and she will be eager to find out what it is, instead of putting the book aside because she doesn't like the hero

  • Perhaps it is the things he does, rather than the things he says, that is the problem. You don't have to make your characters bland, or always nice, but again, if you want the hero to do something that isn't very nice, give him a reason for it

    Harstairs House paperback Cover

    This is from Harstairs House, and demonstrates what I mean

    The three gentlemen crossed the hall and went out of the front door, heading towards the coast.

    'I knew this was a mistake,' said Edward darkly. ''The ladies have only been in the house a few hours, and already we've run across them twice. It's going to be impossible keeping them away from us.'

    'What harm can it do if they see us in the hall occasionally?' asked James nonchalantly. 'We make a little conversation, offer them our help, and they go on their way - as we go on ours.'

    'And what were you doing with the lantern?' said Edward, turning to look at Oliver, who was striding along beside him. 'Why were you carrying it down from the attic?'

    'Miss Thorpe found it there. Don't worry,' he said, seeing Edward's expression. 'She didn't know what it was for. She thought it was part of the ordinary rubbish that had been deposited there. Deeming it useful, she decided to take it down to the kitchen.'

    'Can women never leave anything alone?' asked Edward in exasperation. 'What was she doing in the attic anyway?'

    'Seeing how much work it would take to make it habitable. She is thinking of using it as servants' quarters.'

    'Or so she says. But whatever her reasons for being there, she has taken the lantern, and now we will have to find another one to signal with.'

    'A small problem,' said Oliver.

    'She's a menace. I wish she had never come to the house.'

    'Oliver doesn't think so,' said James with a wicked smile as they walked across the cliffs.

    Edward looked at him sharply. 'What do you mean?'

    James glanced at Oliver. 'Oliver's on the hunt.'

    'On the hunt?' enquired Edward with a frown.

    'He's stalking Miss Thorpe!'

    'What's this?' demanded Edward. 'I hope you haven't been doing anything foolish, Oliver?'

    'Of course not,' said Oliver, as he strode across the cliffs with his black hair rippling in the breeze. 'It's nothing.'

    'So,' continued James. 'How do you think you are getting on? Is she in love with you yet? Has she fallen under your spell? Has she been conquered by your charm?'

    Oliver looked at him with mild amusement. 'You seem sure I've set out to conquer her, but perhaps I've no fancy for her.'

    'That doesn't usually stop you, and in this case I'm certain it won't.'


    'Meaning that as soon as she said she wouldn't marry you if her life depended on it, her fate was sealed!'

    'What folly is this?' asked Edward sharply. 'You haven't asked her to marry you?'

    'Of course not. What do you take me for?'

    'Then why . . . .?'

    'The companion thought they'd make a handsome couple,' said James with a grin. 'Oliver overheard them talking when he went to tell them we'd decided to share the house. But little Miss Hard-to-please said she wouldn't marry him to save her life - which, to Oliver, is tantamount to slapping his face with a glove. It's a challenge he can't resist.'

    Oliver gave a wolfish smile.

    'No, you can't do it,' said Edward, stopping to look at him angrily. 'I forbid it.'

    Oliver returned his gaze. He spoke softly, but there was a glitter in his eyes. 'I will allow no man to forbid me anything. Not even you.'

    'Think about what you're doing, for God's sake!' exclaimed Edward. 'It's not only stupid to get involved with her, it's cruel. The girl's had no experience of life. She's spent most of it in the schoolroom, either as a pupil or a teacher. She's no match for a man like you.'

    'You make too much of things,' said Oliver, with a shrug of his massive shoulders. 'It's nothing important, just a little harmless flirtation, that's all.'

    'For you maybe, but for her?'

    'Don't worry, I know when to stop. Besides, she'll enjoy it. The fair sex may look delicate on the outside, but on the inside they are quite the reverse. It won't do her any lasting harm,' he said. 'It will simply give her an autumn to remember.'

    'If she finds out what we're doing here, it could give us an autumn to remember,' growled Edward.

    'She won't,' replied Oliver curtly.

    'She had better not. You really mean to go through with this' - he gestured with his hands - 'this charade?'

    Oliver nodded. 'I rather think I do.'

    'You weren't always like this. I don't know what happened to you in France, Oliver,' said Edward in disgust, 'but it can't have been anything good.'

    'Nothing that happens in France is good any more,' said James, sobering suddenly. 'It is all terrible.'

    'This is more than the general horror. It's personal, something that happened before the troubles took a hold,' said Edward, looking at Oliver intently.

    'What happened to me in France is my own business,' said Oliver.

    James looked from one to the other of them.

    'What was it?' asked James curiously. 'What did happen, Oliver?'

    Oliver's face grew dark. 'Be thankful you don't know.'

    As you can see from the extract above, I have Oliver behaving in a cruel fashion, setting out to try and win Susannah's affections without having any intention of returning them. This would ordinarily make him unlikeable, but I hint at a reason for it. Oliver wasn't always like this. Something happened to him, and it changed him. This allows him to have a dark side to his character. It also intrigues the reader, as she wants to find out what happened to him, and best of all, it allows him to grow as a person throughout the book, because he can learn the error of his ways.

    I will be talking more about character growth below, as it is one of the ways in which you can make your characters seem like real people.

    ii) Your hero is a wimp

    No one can fall in love with a wimp. Make sure that your hero takes charge when necessary, don't let his friends/ family take his decisions for him.

    As in all aspects of writing, there are no hard and fast rules, so if the plot needs his mother to arrange a marriage for him, for example, then have him refusing to go along with it. If you need him to fall in love with his mother's choice, then have him meet her at a time when he doesn't know she's his mother's choice, and fall in love with her anyway.

    iii) Your hero is a nonentity

    Make sure your hero has a life of his own, don't let him hang around simple being the hero. If you are writing an action packed book, have him trying to track down a spy, or smugglers, or trying to get secret information to someone who needs it, for example.

    If the book is not action packed, then still give him something to do. Maybe he is trying to get into parliament, or maybe he runs a business (although bear in mind that business men and politicians are not usually so popular as heroes.) Maybe he owns a large estate, and has to spend time running it. If so, for added interest, have something go wrong on the estate from time to time. Maybe a barn catches fire and he has to take charge, organising everyone so that the fire is put out. Or maybe he has a corrupt estate manager who causes problems. Or maybe his activities will centre around his family, for example, maybe his aunt has been receiving poison pen letters, and he wants to find out who is sending them.

    Not only will this make him seem a more interesting character, it will give you something to write about, and provide scenes where he can interact with the heroine. Maybe he enlists her help. Or maybe he suspects she's responsible for whatever's going wrong, or is at least in league with the people causing whatever's going wrong.

    Make sure you intersperse the book with scenes where he attends to his own concerns. Don't just say that he's tracking a gang of smugglers in Chapter 1 and then forget all about it. Make sure you follow through. You don't have to do too much, but a few scenes here and there will remind the reader of his purpose in life and move his plot forward. It will need to finally resolve at the end of the book, with him catching the spies/smugglers etc

    ii) Your heroine is unlikeable

    The most common causes of a heroine being unlikeable is that she is a wimp

    If she seems wimpy in her scenes with the hero, make her stand up to him. Give them a good source of conflict - one in which they are both right, so that they can both argue their corner convincingly. End it in a stalemate, with neither character giving way. This will create tension and drive them apart - giving you a chance, later on, to bring them together again.

    If she seems too passive, Simply make her do more. If she is in a difficult situation, have her do something to help herself out of it.

  • To give your heroine more personality, try giving her a hobby or an interest in life. She doesn't have to do it all the time, but if she's interested in painting, she can take her paints out into the countryside, and perhaps this is when she meets the hero. Give her painting expeditions point, and they will be more interesting

  • If your heroine is a more active person, perhaps she loves riding. If so, when she goes to London (if she does) she can make sure she has a horse to ride. By remembering her hobby in different situations, you will help to establish her character.

  • Don't let other people take all her decisions for her. Have her taking them herself. This isn't to say that she shouldn't follow other people if it makes sense to do so - eg if she's lost, and comes across someone who tells her the way home, it makes sense for her to do as they say, rather than have her saying, 'No, I think I'll go this way.' Give her personality, but also give her common sense!

  • If she's in danger of some kind, have her try to rescue herself. If she's kidnapped, she can climb out of a window, for example, or wait until her captor comes into the room and hit him on the head with a jug. You can then either have her escape or, if you want the hero to rescue her, you can make sure her efforts to help herself don't work. Perhaps, when she climbs out of the window, she is caught again, or perhaps when she smashes the jug over her captor's head, she finds it doesn't have any effect. In this way she will seem to have spirit, rather than sitting around and waiting for someone else to solve her problems for her.

  • Make sure she stands up to the hero. Have her disagree with him when he tries to tell her what to do - unless there's a good reason why she should follow his lead - but don't turn it into a petty argument. Instead, have her come up with an equally good idea. If he is convinced his idea will work, and she is convinced her idea will be better, then you have the basis for a realistic disagreement. If you have a few of these situations throughout your book, make sure the hero and heroine get their way equally. If the hero gets his way all the time, the heroine will seem weak. If the heroine gets her way all the time, the hero will seem weak.

    Perhaps your heroine is TSTL - too stupid to live.

    If she sees a stranger shoot someone, and then accepts a lift in his carriage, she will be unlikeable because she will be TSTL.

    Make sure she doesn't behave in a stupid manner.

    iii) Your characters are too perfect

  • Your hero and heroine don't have to be perfect, in fact making them so is one of the reasons they can become unlikeable. Some flaws will make them seem more like real people. Give them some character defects. Not the sort of thing to make them unlikeable, but the sort of thing that will make them seem human

    A Most Unusual Governess Cover


    In A Most Unusual Governess, Sarah's fault is outspokenness. She has been raised as a gentleman's daughter and is not used to guarding her tongue. This is not a fault in a gentleman's daughter, but it is a fault in a governess.

    James's fault is that he is too domineering. He has just left the army and needs to adjust to civilian ways.

    If you give your characters faults, it will give your characters depth, and it will also give them something to talk about if the situation arises

    Example from A Most Unusual Governess

    Sarah did not know what to make of Lord Randall's change of manner, but she felt that now, whilst his softer mood lasted, it would be a good idea for her to make amends for her earlier angry outburst. 'I have something to say to you,' she began hesitantly. 'I -'

    'No,' he said, interrupting her. 'Not before I have said something to you.'

    He paused, seeming not to know how to continue.

    'There's really no need -' began Sarah, when he didn't speak.

    'Yes, there is. There's every need. You see -' He broke off and stood up, striding over to the mantelpiece. 'I'm not often wrong,' he said at last, 'but I was wrong the other day-'

    'No,' said Sarah firmly. 'I was the one who was in the wrong. I should never have spoken to you like that.'

    'No, you shouldn't,' he agreed. 'It was very wrong of you. In fact,' he added with a wicked smile, 'it was very impertinent!'

    Sarah smiled, realising that he was teasing her.

    'But I was wrong, too,' he went on. 'You see, I caught sight of Fitzwilliam racing through the woods on my way back to the house. I've never seen him like that before. He's always been so . . . '

    'Distant?' asked Sarah.

    'Yes. Distant. But there was nothing distant about him then. He looked - alive.'

    Sarah nodded. 'I know.'

    'And it was you who brought him to life. I don't want the children behaving like ragamuffins, but a little play is - ' he smiled - 'a little play is perhaps something they need.'

    'It is,' said Sarah. 'You must have needed to play yourself. I can't believe that learning to run the Grange meant you never had time to play.'

    'You're right.' He returned to his chair. 'I used to play in the stables as a boy. I'd forgotten all about it until you reminded me.'

    'You must have learnt a lot from the experience, as well as simply enjoying yourself,' said Sarah.

    'How so?'

    'Well, you must have learned how the horses were cared for, and how many jobs there were to be done, for example. And you must have learned a lot about the stable hands as well - which men worked well on their own, for instance, and which ones needed to be pushed. Then, too, you must have developed a respect for them, seeing how hard they worked. All important knowledge for a boy who was going to inherit an estate.'

    He gave her a looked of mixed respect and surprise. 'Miss Davenport. Has anyone ever told you that you are a most unusual governess?'

    Sarah gave a rueful smile. 'I never thought I'd be a governess at all.'

    'And do you like being a governess?' he asked.

    'Yes, I do. Now that I know I don't have to speak Russian and play the harp, I like it very much indeed!'

    In this example, their faults move the story along. Sarah's outspokenness allows her to treat James, an earl, like a human being instead of her employer. James's overbearing nature gives Sarah something to speak out against.

    You can use faults in other ways. Perhaps the hero / heroine learns to curb their faults because something bad follows on from them.

    b) Your hero and heroine are not together enough

    You need to keep your hero and heroine together as much as possible. They should definitely be together for some part of every chapter, and if you can keep them together most of the time, so much the better. If the plot calls for a long parting, tell it in a page or two. Or even tell it in a sentence or two, eg 'It was two months before she saw him again. She had spent the summer on her country estate, but when she returned to London, she was brought face to face with him in the park.'

    If you can't think of things for your hero and heroine to do together, try these:

  • Give them a source of conflict and let them argue it out.

  • Have him help her in some way, or have her help him.

    Anything But A Gentleman Cover  


    At last the yacht began to slow. Lord Ravensford steered it in to the shore and brought it gliding to a halt. He secured the ropes, sprang out of the yacht, and offered Marianne his hand. She took it gratefully - the yacht was breathtaking, but getting in and out of it was precarious - and found herself once more on firm ground. She looked across the lake towards Miss Stock, who was busily chattering to Mrs Kent. Lord Ravensford had brought the yacht to rest at the far side of the lake, away from most of the guests, something Marianne suspected he had done on purpose. Whilst still being in full view, they were accorded some measure of privacy, and would retain it until they had walked round the lake.

    'It's good to see you enjoying yourself,' he said, taking in her brilliant eyes and rosy cheeks.

    She looked at him suspiciously, not sure whether he was mocking her or not, but for once he seemed to be serious.

    'It can't be easy for you,' he continued, 'now that your father's become a recluse.'

    'Sometimes . . . ' she began.


    'Sometimes it would be nice to have someone to turn to.' She knew herself to be both intelligent and capable, but even so, there were times when she found it all getting too much for her.

    He looked at her intently. 'You weren't tempted to accept Cosgrove's offer of marriage, then?' he asked, his hand drifting to her chin, which he lifted gently towards him. His eyes were searching as they probed her own.

    She swallowed. 'No.'

    'Life would be so much easier for you if you had a husband.'

    Marianne felt the tension in him as he spoke, as though he was a coiled spring. 'I could hardly marry Jem for that reason,' she replied.

    'Many women do marry for that reason.'

    'And I do not blame them for it. But that is not for me.' He looked at her searchingly for another minute and then, seeming satisfied, dropped her chin.

    They walked on in silence, skirting the lake. 'I have to admit that Jem's proposal has changed things. It has made it much more difficult for me to ask Mr Cosgrove for advice,' she said.

    'I have my own estate in Surrey. I am used to managing it. If you need any help I hope you will ask me.'

  • Let them tell each other about their pasts. Don't do this until abuot half way through the book, or you will be giving your reader too much information at once

  • Have them involved in some action together. It can be a simple action, such as going riding together, or something more long lasting, such as looking after the hero's nephews and nieces together. I can also be adventurous, such as them finding themselves caught up in the Battle of Waterloo, or attacked by a band of smugglers, or having to track down a spy.

  • Have them at a social gathering together. Perhaps they dance together at a ball, or perhaps he brings her a plate of food at a picnic.

  • It can often be useful to have them both arrive at the same spot together, and let it create problems. This can be a social event, or, as in the following example from The Silverton Scandal, it can be part of an adventure.

    The story so far:

    Eleanor's sister, Arabella, is being blackmailed by Mr Kendrick, who has gained possession of some foolish love letters she wrote in the schoolroom. Eleanor has promised to try and get them back. If she can't get them back, she knows that Arabella's marriage plans will be ruined.

    In the course of her quest, Eleanor has come across Lord Silverton, and in order to protect her sister's reputation she has told him the love letters are her own.

    Eleanor goes to Mr Kendrick's house, hoping to buy back the letters, but when she gets there she finds that the door is open and no one seems to be at home.

    She went into the next room. It was splendidly decorated, but it had a different character to the rest of the house. It was a place to work. A large mahogany desk was set at one side, with a leather-bound chair pushed up next to it. The walls were covered with bookcases . . . and the room had been ransacked.

    Eleanor's eyes ran over the jumble and confusion in dismay. The drawers had been wrenched out of the desk and turned upside down, their contents scattered all over. Piles of papers leaned drunkenly on the edge of the desk, looking as if they could topple over at any moment, and documents of every kind covered the floor.

    Had Mr Kendrick been the subject of a common burglary, or had one of his victims decided to reclaim their possessions without meeting his greedy demands?

    She gave a sudden start as she heard a dull thud, then laughed with relief as she realized that it had been caused by nothing more than one of the piles of papers overbalancing and falling to the floor.

    She turned her attention back to the papers, wondering if Arabella's letters were amongst them. She was just about to start looking for them when her heart skipped a beat: she heard the sound of voiced, and they were coming up the stairs.

    Instinctively she backed away from the door. . . and found herself stopped by something large and hard. She gasped. And then her heart began to hammer in her chest. Whatever she had bumped into, it was not a piece of furniture. It was hard, but it had yielded a little as she had bumped into it, and it was warm.

    Before she could turn round, a hand clamped itself over her mouth and she was dragged forcibly backwards into a large cupboard.Feeling an overwhelming need to get away, she bit into the fingers clamped over her mouth.

    There was a stifled curse, and then a voice she recognised hissed in her ear, 'Don't fight me, you little fool. Keep still.'

    'Lord Silverton!'

    He pulled the cupboard door closed, and Eleanor felt her heart start to escalate as she realized she was trapped in a confined space with the one man in all the world she did not want to be forced into close contact with. She could feel the hardness of his body at her back, and the ridged muscles of his arms and chest. His legs, long and lean, were pressed against hers and the feel of them made her tremble.

    She did not know what danger awaited her outside the door but she began to feel it could not be any worse than this. She tried to move. If she could just inch forward she would not have to feel his body pressing so tightly against her. She moved one leg, but this was even worse, as the friction sent an unwelcome tremor coursing through her.

    'Don't move,' he commanded.

    She was about to make another effort to free herself, despite his warning, when she heard the voices drawing closer. They were now on the landing. She felt Lord Silverton tense again, and her own muscles tightened, too. She did not know what she had stumbled into, but it was obviously dangerous. She stopped struggling. For the first time she was glad of Lord Silverton's strength at her back.

    Through a crack in the door she could see one of the men entering the room. He was tall and fair, and he was dressed in a brown tailcoat and breeches. She watched as he glanced around the room. 'It doesn't look like there's anyone here.'

    'Then what was that noise?' said the second man.

    'I don't know.'

    The fair man looked round the room again and then, to her horror, she saw that his eyes had fallen on the cupboard. She forgot to breath. He started to walk towards it . . . and then another of the piles of papers on the desk suddenly shifted under its own weight, before sliding with a soft thump! onto the floor.

    The man, his attention caught, cast his eye over the paper littering the floor, and seemed satisfied that the noise he had heard from downstairs had been caused by a similar slide.

    'It was nothing,' he said. 'Just some papers shifting. Let's do what we came to do, then we can get out of here.'

    The two men rifled the papers.

    'Here they are,' said one of the men.

    'Good. Let's go.'

    Their steps could be heard going along the landing. Eleanor began to breath more normally again, but Lord Silverton's arms were still around her, and she knew she would have no peace until she had removed herself from his embrace. She made a move to pull away from him, but he held her firm.

    'Wait,' he commanded.

    She listened to the footsteps as they went down the stairs, and finally she heard a soft thunk! as the front door closed. As soon as it had done so she struggled to break free of his grasp. She needed to get out of the cupboard. Being so close to him made her feel vulnerable, and she had to escape. To her relief he let her go. Turning the handle she leant heavily against the cupboard door, and, in her haste she almost fell.

    Lord Silverton followed her. She turned to face him, intending to berate him for dragging her into the cupboard, but she saw the look on his face and faltered. He was glowering down at her, and his eyes were smouldering with unsuppressed anger.

    'Now,' he said, 'suppose you tell me what the devil you are doing here?'

    She took a step back and then stopped. She refused to be intimidated, even though he was looking dangerous enough to intimidate an entire army.

    'I should have thought that was obvious,' she returned. 'I am trying to reclaim my letters.'

    She saw his eyes narrow, as though trying to read her mind. His mouth suddenly hardened. 'Then you're a bloody little fool.'

    Her eyes opened wide in astonishment. 'I beg your pardon?'

    'Oh, no, you don't. You're far too pig-headed to do that.'

    'Have you finished insulting me?' she asked, as anger took over from astonishment.

    'I haven't even begun. You seek out Kendrick, knowing just what kind of man he is, and then you refuse to abandon your mission even when anyone but a fool would realize they were in over their head.'

    'That's the second time you've called me a fool -'

    'And it isn't enough! What the hell do you think you're doing, coming here and putting yourself in danger, and all to reclaim the letters of someone you don't even love?'

    'Of course I love him,' she returned. 'You know nothing about it.'

    'I know you don't love him.'

    'And how, pray, would you know that?' she demanded.

    'Because of the way you react to me.'

    A few notes about the above extract.

  • The hero insults the heroine, calling her a fool and saying she is pig-headed, but a little of this goes a long way. He insults her only once or twice in the book, and then it's with good reason: he has already warned her against Mr Kendrick in a previous section, and told her not to pursue the matter of her letters. Now he finds that she's gone against his good advice, and put herself in danger. Therefore he has a credible reason for being angry with her. And this passage is the extent of the anger. After this, it moves on to other things.

  • The heroine has acted foolishly, by pursuing a dangerous man, but she has had a good reason for it - she is trying to save her sister's reputation and forthcoming marriage.

    c) Your characters' behaviour is inconsistent

    Keeping character behaviour consistent is something that beginning writers often find difficult. I'll be fleshing this section out in weeks to come, but for now, here are a few tips.

    These problems usually arise from a desire to make the characters fit into the plot. Graham Green once notably said, Character is plot, and he is right. Your characters will dictate your plot. Of course, you will have some idea of your plot, but if the plot dictates that your sensible heroine should suddenly go into the woods alone, at night, when she's been told that the last three women who did so were never seen again, then you need to change your plot, or you need to give her a very good reason for doing it.

  • If she is a governess, perhaps the child in her charge has been sleepwalking, and she has seen the child wander into the wood.

  • Perhaps she is a companion, and the forgetful old lady she works for has wandered into the wood.

    In the above cases, give the heroine some reason for going into the wood instead of going to rouse a search party. Perhaps she can just see the child/old lady, but knows that if she goes for help she will lose them.

    This will actually throw up all sorts of interesting new possibilities for you to explore. If you let your characters lead the way, you will end up with a stronger and more interesting book.

    As you read through your manuscript, make sure that sensible people don't suddenly become stupid. Make sure that capable people don't start crying all the time. Make sure that overbearing characters don't suddenly become sweet. Just think how uncnvincing it would have been if Darcy had started playing practical jokes! All these rules can be overriden if there's a good reason for the sudden change, but if there is, make sure you let your reader know, eg She was too frightened to think clearly or she was worn down from the death of her parents, her fears for the children, and her illness, so that suddenly it was all too much for her. She began to cry. But don't do it too often, or you will end up with characters who have no discernible personality, which will make them annoying.

    Although you need your characters to behave consistently, it's all right, in fact good, for their characters to develop. Character development, or character growth, is an important part of a book. It makes characters seem real.

    So what is the difference between characters who wobble about all over the place, and characters whose behaviour changes with growth?

    The difference is that characters who are inconsistent behave one way one minute, and another way the next, with no reason for the change.

    On the other hand, with characters who grow and develop

  • they change for a reason

  • their change is gradual

  • they change for the better throughout the book

  • once they've changed, they stay in their new character.

    The best example of character development is Mr Darcy

    He refused to dance with Elizabeth at the Meryton assembly, but he was not opposed to the idea when Sir William Lucas suggested he dance with her at a later meeting, because he had begun to find her attractive. This is an example of character growth.

    If he had sought out Elizabeth at the next ball himself, saying cheerfully to Bingley, 'There is Miss Elizabeth Bennet. You must introduce me, Bingley. She's the most ravishing creature I have ever seen,' it would have been completely out of character. This would have been an exampls of character wobbling, particularly then, if at the next dance, he had gone back to refusing to partner her.

    Throughout the course of the book he loses his arrogance, as various scenes are set up to show the reader how it happens. He comes to appreciate Elizabeth's personality when she stays with Jane at Netherfield, and at Rosings he sees that his own relatives are far from perfect. Then he proposes to Elizabeth, and her rejection of him, coupled with her plain speaking, starts to make him see himself in a new light. He's angry to begin with, but as he calms down he begins to realize that she is right. He loses his arrogance and becomes a much more likeable character, so that when he sees her again at Pemberley, he puts himself out to be polite to her and her aunt and uncle.

    Once his arrogance is lost, he doesn't go back to being arrogant again. He has grown as a person. He has learnt something. And he has learnt it over a sustained period, changing gradually before our eyes. He is humbled, and has to acknowledge that he has been arrogant and conceited. This character growth allows him to proceed to a happy ending.

    Elizabeth, too, grows. She learns that her opinions on Wickham were entirely wrong, and once he's been exposed as a scoundrel, she never believes in him again. If her character had wobbled, she would have fallen for Wickham the next time she saw him, forgetting everything she knew about him. This would have irritated the reader because it would have been stupid. Make sure you don't have this sort of character wobble in your books. Once a heroine learns a man is bad, let her remember it and act accordingly. In fact, once she learns anything, let her remember it and act accordingly.

    d) Your characters are flat

    This is usually because

    i) Your characters don't have a history

    Your characters need to seem like people who existed before the book opened, and who will exist after it closes, rather than people who have been invented for the purposes of the book. They need a history. (Don't tell it all at once - see the Style page)

    This history will often create internal conflict. Perhaps the heroine was mistreated in the past, which makes her wary of men, so that even though she finds herself falling for the hero she is unwilling to give herself to him because of her problematic past. I explored this theme in The Six-Month Marriage.

    Perhaps it is the hero who has a problem. Perhaps he has been married before, and his wife married him for his money, so now he distrusts women.

    Go through your favourite modern Regencies and see what internal conflicts there are, ie what is it in the hero or heroine's character or past that stops them giving in to their feelings. Make sure you give your characters internal conflicts, then make sure they resolve them by the end of the book. If the hero thinks that women are only interested in money, then he needs to see the heroine do something disinterested, for example he sees her selling a necklace and giving the money to the poor. If the heroine is afraid of being mistreated, then set up a few scenes which show the hero responding to her understandingly.

    A word of warning: beware of giving your characters too much history! One or two internal conflicts are enough. Don't load them down with so many problems that the book sinks under the weight of them.

    and ii) Your characters don't have a future

    Let your characters talk about their hopes for the future, to make them seem more real

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