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Creating Characters With Character! Emma Hannigan

Writing.ie | Resources | Better Fiction Guides | Character

Emma Hannigan

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It makes sense to judge a book by its cover. Initially that’s the only way we can decide whether or not we like the look of a book and want to pick it up. The design and thought that goes into each and every jacket is astonishing. The first time I was published, the amount of background work that went on pre-shelf blew me away.

Once I’ve chosen a book and I settle down to read, for me the characters are by far the most important element of that story. Needless to say the plot and story lines are obviously of grave importance too. Who wants to learn of a wonderful person with all sorts of fabulous attributes and a superb physical description who never goes out or does anything? It’s not going to wash right?

But what if the author has a great idea for a story line with characters I cannot connect with? Personally if I don’t click with at least one of the main characters, I can’t continue to read.

I wouldn’t sit and have coffee with someone who drives me bats, equally I can’t read a book about someone I have no correlation with.

I need to able to relate to the people in the story to the extent that these fictional folk draw me in and make me feel as if they’re real. There’s nothing more engaging than meeting a new person (through a book!) and feeling as if you’re one of his or her friends.

I’ve read many books that have hit such a nerve with me that I almost became paranoid the author was bugging my phone or peeping in my windows! I’ve read scenes with fictional women and they have a day just like one I’ve recently experienced. To me that is the most incredibly inclusive gift a book can offer.

I know I’m doing the right thing with a character if I can’t control my own emotions while I’m writing. I’m not too sure my husband and children will agree with this at times, however. Recently they came home from a trip to the swimming pool to find me biting back tears at the kitchen table, with nothing but my laptop to blame. I’m not a crier. Never was. So my husband of fifteen years looked seriously alarmed.

‘What’s going on?’ he asked, looking at me as if I’d lost my marbles.

‘Something really sad has just happened to one of my characters,’ I explained. ‘She’s such a dote and she didn’t deserve it,’ I said sighing heavily.

He and both my children looked at one another and raised their eyes to heaven as if to say – she’s off on a mad one again. I often laugh loudly at my own jokes while writing too. I’m putting my hands up on that one – I’m fully aware that’s a definite sign of madness!

It makes my heart sing when readers send me notes saying one of my characters reminds me of themselves. Especially when the character in question has grown emotionally or learned something during the course of the story.

I’m not a stickler for a happy ever after, but I do think it’s vital to see a character evolving. If I create a person and they don’t advance in some way as a result of living his or her life I know I’ve done something seriously wrong! In real life we progress and develop all the time. So in my mind, characters in books should do the same.

I am pedantic about warmth in characters. I have to feel some sort of empathy. If the person is totally awful to everyone around them, I have no vested interest in their out come. What’s the point of reading a book about someone you can’t stand?

Don’t get me wrong I don’t enjoy a cluster of sacherine sweet lily-livers, it’s good to have people with an edge. But not to the extent that everyone totally abhors the character. For me, there has to be some redeeming feature or else I loose interest.

I try to equate my writing to cooking a dinner party. Don’t worry – I’ll explain! If I’ve invited twelve people for dinner I’m going to be conscious of what’s on the menu. I’m not going to assume each of the dozen guests will love oysters and tripe. I’ll lean toward more usual ingredients and try to present them in an innovative and exciting way. I’ll do my best to make the entire meal palatable for all concerned. Some will adore each and every bite clearing their plates and asking for seconds, while others will eat their fill and leave it at that.

So too when I’m creating characters in my head, I’ll make a conscious effort to come up with people who avoid mortal offence. I know I can’t please all the people all of the time, but I hope that by writing from the heart and believing in the individuals I am creating, they’ll transfer favourably.

My new book is called Perfect Wives. It follows the lives of two very different women, Francine and Jodi who discover that they have more in common than they first thought. Both are doing their best to keep all the balls in the air and juggle the ups and downs of life. Both are striving for perfection.

During the course of the story I explore the concept of our awareness to outsiders looking in. So many of us (myself included) put pressure on ourselves to appear to be flawless. Is there such a thing as a Perfect Wife? Would any of us truly want to be deemed perfect when push comes to shove?

I hope you will enjoy the characters I’ve created. I’m going to sound like a total madwoman now and admit that I miss Francine and Jodi since they’ve gone to print! I can’t wait to see them taking pride of place on the shelves of bookshops from April 1st!

If you decide to buy my book and get to know them, will you give them my regards?

Ask Francine to bake you a lemon drizzle cake – it’s to die for. And if you’re going anywhere special in the next while, Jodi has the most amazing selection of evening gowns and she loves to lend them out.

I hope you’ll engage with my ladies and more than that I hope you’ll think my characters have character!

Bye for now!

Emma xx

Perfect Wives published by Hachette Books will be in all Irish bookshops from April 1st or from Amazon here

About the author

Emma HanniganRead more from Emma here on writing.ie in: The Will to Succeed

Emma Hannigan on Writing Editing & Show Don’t Tell

Getting Personal (on writing memoir)

Praise for Emma Hannigan

‘Hannigan’s novel, much like the vivacious author herself, is brimming with hope, joy and inspiration’ Sunday Independent.

Emma Hannigan lives in Bray with her husband, son, daughter and cat.  Her fiction novels, Designer GenesMiss Conceived , The Pink Ladies Club and Keeping Mum were published with Poolbeg press while her memoir, Talk to the Head Scarf, was published with Hachette Ireland.   Emma also maintains a diary on her website Emmahannigan.com


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