Creating believable characters – Victoria Cooke

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By Victoria Cooke

Characters can make or break a novel. They don’t have to be likeable, but they must be believable and interesting. In chick lit, readers should root for your protagonist, lust for your hero and despise your antagonist and getting this right, can be tricky. ♥

Finding inspiration

For me, character ideas come from a range of places. It could be that I’ve overheard a snippet of a conversation from a passer-by and built a whole character around my interpretation of what that person could be like, or I could see someone sat drinking coffee and imprint a persona on them based on their mannerisms and facial expressions. Sometimes I even merge a few people I’ve met together and exaggerate their characters.

Creating the likeable protagonist

This can be tricky as there is a fine line between developing a lead character our readers root for and one they find whiny and annoying. Firstly, I try to ensure my characters don’t need a man to complete them – they want one. Of course, the ultimate goal in romantic comedy is to bring two people together, and this must also be what the reader wants to see happen. But, we live in a society of empowered women and for me, each female lead must be developed in her own right. For instance, Mel in The Secret to Falling in Love is single because she spent her twenties working towards financial independence. She wanted a family but concentrated on her career first. Hannah in The Holiday Cruise lacked independence but found it after her marriage ended by pushing herself into a new experience. The men are the icing on the cake.

Creating a lovable hero

There are many physical features that can make a hero sexy, it doesn’t have to be his chest or bum. For instance, I love a strong forearm. It could be the eyes, the way his hair falls sexily around them or the strain of his shirt around his tattooed bicep, but the physical features are just a small part of the reader buy-in. Personality is vital. So whether your hero is brooding or bumbling, funny or thoughtful he’ll need to have endearing qualities such as being a hopeless romantic, protective or having a good sense of humour. Movies and books are great for researching the perfect hero, for me, I like the everyday boy next door with a sense of humour, for others, it could be the damaged guy who needs fixing. My advice here is to have fun playing about with different traits and features.

Adding dimension

As humans, we don’t have the same moods, do the same actions or use the same tone consistently so our characters shouldn’t either. However, we do sometimes have habits. We chew our nails, talk with our hands or fiddle with our ears and so on. To give our characters dimension, we could therefore include habits. Selection is important as some habits could be irritating or gross to readers – for instance, nobody is going to love a nose-picking heroine but it might be a good trait for an anti-hero/antagonist. It’s important not to over-do the reference to habits as they could become a little jarring – lip chewing before every kiss for example. In the secret to Falling in Love, Mel’s habit was to over-think. This was a habit that allowed variation each time it was used.

Nobody is perfect, so our characters shouldn’t be either. Sometimes in life, we need to scratch beneath the surface to reveal the flaws of another and our characters should be no different. Character flaws can vary to suit the character and story and they give us two benefits. The first is that they add another more interesting dimension to the characters, and the second is that they can either propel the story or create a barrier to the protagonist’s goal.

Don’t forget your supporting cast. The minor characters in your story are there to propel your story. They break up inner monologue and either push the protagonist towards their goal or act with the antagonist to prevent it. I personally love an outspoken friend!

For me, developing characters is the most enjoyable part of writing and getting to know and understand them is what really drives my stories forward. On many occasions the characters have driven the plot, steering in in a different direction to my plan. I love seeing where they take me.

Victoria Cooke grew up in the city of Manchester before crossing the Pennines in pursuit of a career in education. She now lives in Huddersfield with her husband and two young daughters. Victoria was first published at the tender age of eight by her classroom teacher who saw potential in a six-page story about an invisible man. Since then she’s always had a passion for reading and writing, undertaking several writers’ courses before completing her first novel, The Secret to Falling in Love, in 2016. Her latest novel, The Holiday Cruise, is out now.

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