A writer needs to be aware of the audience who is reading their book… It’s no good being in an ivory tower and pay no attention to those who are reading the fine words before them…. Those readers might not think they are such fine words!

Lois Elsden considers how easy it is as a writer to become too self-indulgent with characters, to ‘fall in love’ the people on the page.

Loving my people…

I made a comment recently about the importance of not falling in love with my characters… and I had some  comments which I really appreciated, but it made me realise I need to make it clearer what I mean. I don’t mean that a writer shouldn’t ‘like’ their characters, or have respect for them within the narrative.

I sometimes think that writers, particularly of a series of novels, that they become so close to their characters that they are no longer objective about them and become almost indulgent. I don’t wish to criticise P.D. James heaven forbid! She actually is an old girl of the school I attended in Cambridge and a wonderful writer, a great writer. I, along with other people will never forget the way she took apart the then Director General of the BBC, Mark Thompson, when she interviewed him… however… however… I think she became too indulgent with her detective, Adam Dalgliesh and lost her objectivity.  I suppose the opposite can happen too, a writer can become fed up and disenchanted with a character and kill them off… this runs the risk of alienate readers who are not fed up with them! I really enjoyed The Faraday novels by Graham Hurley, and was shocked and irritated when Hurley killed Faraday. It completely spoiled the whole series and I gave all my books away – It didn’t seem consistent with the character and I thought there could have been an end to the series without an end to the character…

Someone commented that a fiction writer is the creator and so makes the rules… I suppose that is true to a certain extent, especially for great writers… However,  I’m just an ordinary writer, a story-teller, and I want people to read my work; like it or not, to a certain extent I have to conform to a certain structure and convention. It’s the same as if I were a performer, I would want people to watch me, so maybe I would have to compromise in order to get that audience. As a writer, especially an unknown writer seeking an audience I might sometimes have to adjust what I write to catch people’s interest, and then sustain it… and yet I must continue to be  my own person and true to what I want to do.

I do like my characters, I really do, in fact there is one who I am very fond of, who grew as I wrote, until he was someone I had never anticipated even being in the novel. I guess what I mean by not falling in love with them is that I should also try and see and write about them objectively so they behave within the context of the plot in a consistent and believable way. Maybe a better way of expressing it is using the word indulgent; a writer – or I shouldn’t be too indulgent with them, and let them behave out of character just because I want happiness or success for them.

My characters are important to me, really important, they live with me after all! They continue on with their lives long after the story has ended… just because there is nothing more for my readers doesn’t mean the characters don’t continue their lives and adventures!

As a reader I have a great sense of satisfaction when characters stay with me after I close a book… and so my ‘people’ do when I finish writing about them; I must just make sure I don’t want to become too close to them while I am telling their story!

©Lois Elsden 2016

You can find Lois’s books here:



2 thoughts on “Falling in love with your characters

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