Character: The Sound of Your Voice by Faith Hogan | Resources | Better Fiction Guides | Character
Faith Hogan character

Faith Hogan

I must say, when Sam Blake asks you to write a piece about character for the Blog, it makes you sit up and think. I mean, if anyone knows about character it’s the woman who created Carla Steel!

What I know of building character stems from writing (and re-writing) twelve books in total, not counting the one currently driving me bonkers on the desk top, but that’s the writing life. There are some things I’ve learned along the way, some painful lessons and some, by the luck of all the powers that probably keep Mayo from winning the All – Ireland, I’ve been fortunate enough to have already in my toolbox.

So, if giving pointers, I think six are a good place to start.

First off, know your character.

I mean, really know them, take the time to think about who they are and more importantly what they are doing and even more crucially, why they do what they do. This isn’t easy. Which of us can break down our own actions and the reasons for them in any given day? We all do a thousand different things for which we can’t account. Turning left instead of right or maybe blurting out exactly the wrong thing, to the wrong person at the worst possible time? We’ve all done it, and you want to kick yourself for days afterwards – see? No rhyme or reason for many of our actions.

It’s different in fiction. In fiction, you are the God of all action. It’s up to you, who lives, who dies or who pays for dinner. Being God seems like it can be good fun, until you realise that with it comes great responsibility. I’m not sure that if there is a God, he’s actually responsible for all the silly things we do, even if it would be nice to hang the blame on him sometimes.

Second – Listen, listen, listen.

Bookshop Ladies For me, it’s all about listening. Very often I will hear a character before I see them. It might be a nasal inflection, a transatlantic drawl or the rasp of envy at the end of a sentence – a delicious morsel to get your teeth into as a writer.

Very often, I’ll be half way through a book and not have any idea if some of my main characters have short hair, long hair or no hair at all. What I’ll know for sure is if they like olives or mushrooms or have an allergy to cats and a love of travelling to far flung places on a whim. I’ll have a good idea what their immediate response is if they see a homeless person in the street.

Of course, at some point, I will be asked for clear descriptions of each of the characters – they may make an appearance on the cover – time’s up then – it’s off to pick out coat, hat and shoes – or maybe that’s hair and makeup, but like life, it’s always what’s inside the counts the most.

Third, what’s that you said?

In a related, but separate note, dialogue is everything. Do you know two people who sound the very same? I mean, we know people with similar accents, sisters or brothers who have similar inflections or ways of saying things, but really, none of us is going to have the same reaction across every situation as another person.

The best advice is to make each of your characters sound individual. Younger characters have a very different way of speaking to those of us who did not grow up on a drip feed of the Simpsons. Younger again, have spent months on end speaking to their friends via internet games when they couldn’t go out and meet up and have what we regard as normal relationships during Covid lockdowns. Older characters are often more in touch with the world than those of us in the squeezed middle generation. They have time, they have learned how to use social media and keep up with grandchildren on the other side of the world. Some do Zumba and have the latest ipads and revel in opportunities that having good health into old age allows them. Some do no. It’s okay to write about those who are cut off from the world as we know it today also – so long as they are interesting!

Fourth – the mirror that surrounds us…

Other characters, secondary people in your book provide the best reflection of your characters. I mean, which of us can actually see our own faults? Truly, even those closest to us are blinkered by proximity; really good secondary characters can illuminate your main characters key personality traits. They can act either as a Robin or a Joker to your Batman – better still if you have both.

Fifth, think about your genre…

There is a common misconception that in commercial fiction, it’s all about the action. The truth is, it should always be about the character. It should always be about evoking emotion in the reader and we do that by making a human connection. Obviously there are different expectations around different types of books. Literary fiction typically can be more introspective, each part moving slowly in reaction to what went before, sometimes long ago, before the books’ beginning. This is wonderful to read, if handled well – many Irish writers are at the very top of the game here – John Boyne’s Quartet being a prime example.

Commercial fiction on the other hand, tends to have a central action point, a starting block and a destination that becomes all the more vital as the journey moves forward. In terms of character, there’s a real need for change, evolving, growth. Lives may depend on it, certainly future happiness or the move away from a current less than optimum situation hangs in the balance. You want your reader to root for your main character – this is the secret to those really special books.

Finally, take your time…

I know, we’re all in a rush, there are deadlines to be met, we want to get the work down, get it finished, see it in the hands of readers. But before you even start, take time. I think I spend more time, just sitting in my office looking out the window thinking about who I’m going to write than what I’m going to write.

“If you’re silent for a long time, people just arrive in your mind.”

Alice Walker.

Take my word for it, it’s the best way to spend a writing afternoon, just don’t tell anyone I told you!

(c) Faith Hogan

Twitter @gerhogan Instagram @faithhoganauthor Facebook

About The Bookshop Ladies by Faith Hogan:

Bookshop Ladies From bestselling Irish writer, Faith Hogan, comes another gripping saga of friendship, betrayal and secrets in this story of a widow in search of answers to a shocking confession by her dying husband.

Joy Blackwood has no idea why her French art dealer husband has left a valuable painting to a woman called Robyn Tessier in Ballycove, a small town on the west coast of Ireland, but she is determined to find out.

She arrives in Ballycove to find that Robyn runs a rather chaotic and unprofitable bookshop. She is shy, suffering from unrequited love for dashing Kian, and badly in need of advice on how to make the bookshop successful.

As Joy becomes entangled in the daily dramas of Ballycove, uncovering the secrets behind her husband’s painting grows increasingly challenging. When she finally musters the courage to confront the truth, her revelation sends shockwaves through the tight-knit community she’s grown to love.

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Faith Hogan is an award-winning, million copy best selling author. She is a USA Today Bestseller, Irish Times Top Ten and an Amazon UK Number 1 Best Selling writer of ten contemporary fiction novels. Her books have featured as Book Club Favorites, Net Galley Hot Reads and Summer Must Reads. She writes grown up women’s fiction which is unashamedly uplifting, feel-good and inspiring.
Her new summer read The Bookshop Ladies is out now!
She writes twisty contemporary crime fiction as Geraldine Hogan.
She lives in the west of Ireland with her family and their Labrador named Penny. She’s a writer, reader, enthusiastic dog walker and reluctant jogger – except of course when it is raining!
Twitter @gerhogan Instagram @faithhoganauthor Facebook

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