Getting to Know your Characters by Julie Haiselden – Writing Tips

Getting to Know your Characters by Julie Haiselden – Writing Tips

We have a new segment on the blog which will be coming to you weekly called Writing Tips. The posts will feature writing tips from authors on a variety of subject that are there to help other authors and new writers.

Our ninth post is from author Julie Haiselden on the subject ‘Getting to Know your Characters‘. This post contains affiliate links.

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Getting to Know your Characters

Getting to know the people who live in your head.

When I first started writing I thought it was as simple as:

– Deciding on how many characters I needed for the plot.
– Allocating names, ages and physical descriptions.
– Giving them convenient medical conditions to aid their untimely demise.
– Thinking of backstories for my suspects to create a motive pool.

Never for one moment did I think that once I had achieved the above, my characters would start to develop personalities. With the benefit of hindsight, I realise this is essential for them to be believable even if, at times, that’s inconvenient.

How can it be inconvenient?

– Few characters behave as I expect and most over-reach their remit.
– Choosing an inappropriate name can come back to haunt you. I had a peripheral character in ‘Long Shadows’ who was supposed to be in one scene only and consequently, I plucked the first name that came into my head. However, he fell in love with my main character (over-reaching his remit, as above). She found him useful and so there he was, popping up every few chapters. Sincere apologies to everyone called Gary…
– Some characters turn out to be completely different to expected, necessitating chapter rewrites. The police inspector in my Victorian thriller, ‘Evil Echoes’, was supposed to be middle-aged and rather dim. Once I had introduced him in Chapter 6, I quickly realised he was mid-thirties and as sharp as a tack, damn him.
– My victim in ‘Reasonable Doubt?’ chose to argue about the manner of his death, resulting in a stand-off with this rather irritated author. No prizes for guessing who won.

Don’t be afraid to let your characters loose…

– Once they’re embedded and comfortable, allow them to decide on the direction of the plot.
– More than once I’ve been horrified by the actions of a character, particularly when it means I have to rethink their role in the story.
– Accept that sometimes a character you really like, may not survive the Machiavellian intent of another. By all means mourn their departure but trust the events as they unfold; the story will be stronger for it. Because if you, as the author, are affected by what’s happened, then your readers will be too.
– Above all, you want your readers to care about the people that live in your head. If this means they can’t wait for the murderer to get their comeuppance and cheer when that happens (if it happens) so much the better.

My advice to any fledgling authors would be:

– Fully commit to your characters, wherever they lead you.
– Don’t be afraid to start again, even if that means dumping several chapters. You might be able to upcycle some of the ideas.
– Don’t forget that even imaginary people need to rest and eat. We’ve all read books where the characters are able to survive on fresh air and never sleep.
– Don’t feel you have to publish everything you write. A wise person once told me, a pianist doesn’t play a solo at a concert as soon as they pass their first grade.
– If you base a character on someone you know, make sure you disguise them sufficiently for them not to sue.
– Enjoy spending time with all the people you create but try not to fall in love with any of them because the perfect person has yet to be born. Never take family and friends for granted whilst you’re totally absorbed in writing.

Okay, so occasionally I forget to feed my other half but he knows where the kitchen is and cooks a pretty impressive roast potato…

About the Author

Julie Haiselden

In 2015, my debut novel, Long Shadows was published. My second offering is a Victorian thriller, Evil Echoes and my third, Reasonable Doubt? is a contemporary, and my fourth will be published later this year.

In a past life, I used to be a medical secretary, tread the boards and shout the odd stage direction. Currently, I work as a church verger and when I’m not writing, reviewing or blogging, I give talks to local groups. I am also a room guide for the National Trust. I am blessed with a marvellous home life as a wife, mother and grandmother.

Author Links


Reasonable Doubt by Julie Haiselden

Reasonable Doubt?

Author – Julie Haiselden
Pages – 324
Release Date – 15th April 2019
ISBN 13 – 978-1090488992
Format – ebook, Paperback

Synopsis writing tips 2022

One rural village; so many secrets…

Blenthorne nestles in a quiet corner of Cumbria and is home to local entrepreneur, Lizzie Lockwood. Lizzie has returned to the home she loves after an unpleasant hiatus. She is determined to put the past behind her as she concentrates on her thriving business interests and a fledgling relationship.

Her happy bubble is soon burst by the arrival of tainted newcomer, Helen Anderson who is intent on inveigling herself into Lizzie’s life. Hot on her heels is investigative journalist, Percival Lynton Whitaker. As he garners gossip for his impending ‘Reasonable Doubt?’ exposé on Helen, a chance encounter takes him back to a macabre event from yesteryear. Has he inadvertently stumbled across someone who was implicated in a notorious unsolved multiple murder?

Lizzie is far from pleased that the journalist’s focus appears to have shifted. As events play out, she starts to wonder how well she knows her community. Maybe Helen is the least of her worries? Is it possible that among her friends or neighbours lurks a murderer? For all its tranquil appearance, is Blenthorne harbouring a child-killer?

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