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Characters First

Every writer is different. It feels like that should be an obvious statement, but I think there is a tendency to believe that all books are fundamentally written the same way. But in reality we all have our own processes and idiosyncrasies. For many writers the plot comes first and the characters are a bi-product of that, for me the characters come first.

Sometimes they come with fully formed back stories, and even better, an inclining of what the book might be about. Other times, and if I'm honest this is the most frequent, they come with a bit of a back story, an idea of what sort of person they are, but are very little help with the plot itself.

In Deadly Indiscretions (an unpublished book, by me) I had a great set of characters, enough plot to be going on with, when I typed the words 'the murder weapon was a hockey stick'. It was a spur of the moment decision, but when I took a step back and thought about the murderer's character I realised that actually, it was perfect.

It's really important for me that the story is driven by characters, and that the characters are relatable and believable, even the baddies. It's what I enjoy when I'm reading. I'm not saying that if you give me great characters that I will forgive a not so good plot, but if I'm invested in a set of characters I'll forgive a lot more than I would otherwise.

Of course it's important that there aren't any plot holes and that the story comes together answering all the questions the reader has been asking themselves as they read along, but for me it is equally important that I continually ask myself 'does that feel true to that character'.

Character is the reason I like reading series over standalone, when I've spent a couple of hundred pages becoming invested in a set of characters I want to see them evolve and grow. Of course the downside of this is finding ways to keep it fresh and also ensuring that the characters develop in a way that feels natural and organic. You don't want to start with a protagonist that's a strait-laced, play by the rules type, only to find in book three they become a maverick, fly by the seat of their pants character without explanation.

If they start off being that way and through a series of events they evolve into the other, then as in maths, if you've shown your workings, then you should be okay. Although, I do think that you might lose some of your book one readers if you make such a dramatic u-turn.

The fun thing about writing character first is that the books that you write directly influence the development, so you get to chose which direction you're going to take them in.

I'd love to know what you think, and how important characters and character development are to you. Do you have any favourite series that you come back to time and time again? For me it's Elly Griffiths Ruth Galloway series. Let me know in the comments section and have a wonderful day.

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