• West Cork Literary Festival 2021

Developing Compelling Characters to Drive a Narrative by Sheila Forsey

Writing.ie | Resources | Better Fiction Guides | Character
Sheila Forsey

Sheila Forsey

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Characters in a novel are not just part of the story they must drive the whole narrative, so it is crucial to spend time developing full rounded characters that are compelling and believable. This takes time and lots of hard work.

The first thing that I learned about writing fictional characters is that I cannot judge them. They must be of their time. They must be of their place. They must be of their people.

The characters in my writing are very real to me. I can hear them. I know their mannerisms as well as I know my children’s. I know what they wear, the way they wear their hair, their fears and their loves. I can tap into their interior world. But I never know everything. People that are close to us can sometimes do something that we never expected. My characters are no different.

For me what begins as an image that almost appears to me may become the protagonist of my story.  An image of someone that does not go away. An image that almost begins to haunt me and intrigue me. I think that is why I am drawn to historical fiction; I feel haunted by the past and what has happened in the past. Especially Ireland’s past.  It’s complex and at times harrowing past. But my narrative begins and ends with my characters. I allow them to tell the story. But for characters to drive the narrative they must be believable. To create compelling characters in fiction there are certain things that I find helps.

Firstly when you choose a character choose one that intrigues you. Know enough about them but always have a need to know more.  Be willing to allow the character to surprise you. Take time in naming your character. Then name them well. It is difficult to envisage your character without knowing their name.

Try to hear them speak. What type of dialect have they? What is unusual about their voice? Are they well mannered? Are they confident? Are they shy? Know them as you would a best friend. Their inner fears, their inner demons. Their secrets and anxieties. The things they wished they had done and the things they wished they hadn’t. But again allow them to always know more that you do. They must intrigue us and at times even shock us.

Take a walk with them and listen to them. I know it sounds a bit airy fairy, but it works. Is there something that you are missing about them? Really listen and hear their truth.

Believable dialogue will help develop your character further. But remember to make them visual through the dialogue.  For example people talk with their bodies; their hands gestures, their eyebrows, their eyes etc.  Paint a visual when they speak. Allow the reader to imagine they can see the character. What are they wearing? What way do they walk? How do they wear their hair? Do they wear a perfume? Is it a delicate perfume or is it overpowering?  Are they animated when they talk? How does their voice sound? Have they any quirks? Can you hear their interior world? What are they most afraid of and of course what they do they want? Where is the narrative bringing them?

It is vital that the author knows the history of the protagonist.  The author should know them as intimately as they know their best friend. Where was he/she born, what kind of life did she lead up until now? Who was her first love? What was her first job? Know her attitude to life?  But again a best friend may have some hidden dark secret that she cannot tell, characters are the same. There are always hidden secrets to uncover.

Listen to your inner voice when developing your character, be true to them and be guided by your intuition. Your character must leap of the page as a real person with true authenticity.

Finally no matter what genre that you write in the reader must connect with the protagonist emotionally. This is the human connection that every character must have. It is how we connect the reader and the characters across the page, using empathy and emotion.

(c) Sheila Forsey

Sheila Forsey is a writer of historical fiction. Her latest book The Secret of Eveline House was released in April 2020, published by Poolbeg Press.

About The Secret Of Eveline House:

It’s 1949 and playwright Violet Ward has returned from London with her husband Henry and young daughter Sylvia, to take up residence in Eveline House in County Wicklow.

Her plays are banned in Ireland and the people of the small country town are hostile to her. Then timid little Sylvia receives a threatening letter calling her ‘the daughter of the Devil’. Horrified, Violet wants to return to London. But Henry is violently opposed to leaving Ireland again.

In 2019 Emily O’Connor buys her dream house. Eveline House is like a time capsule, locked up since 1950, still full of personal possessions and hauntingly beautiful photographs of the family that once lived there. A family that seems to have abruptly walked out of their life and disappeared through the cracks of time.

Emily realises that the town has hidden cruel secrets – secrets which will impact on her life in ways she could never have imagined. Soon questions about the fate of the lost family again demand to be answered.

“This atmospheric page-turner is alive with intrigue and mystery from first sentence to last” Niamh Boyce

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Sheila Forsey is a writer of historical fiction. She is an honours graduate from Maynooth in creative writing. She is published by Poolbeg Press. She facilities creative writing workshops for Wexford Arts Centre and is a tutor of creative writing for Adult Education. She lives by the sea in Wexford.

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