Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Day 2833 - Author stuff: Creating characters that come to life

Getting inside somebody else's skin

From left to right on stage: ABC Radio's Kate Evans with authors
Roanna Gonsalves, Michael Robotham and Melissa Ashley

On Sunday I joined my bloggy pals Deb (Debbish) and Jo (And Anyways) at the "Celebration of Books" in Maleny, Queensland.  Their attendance was intentional and well planned, whereas I crashed their party opportunistically as I just happened to be on the Sunshine Coast on holidays.

We attended the "talking writing" session with authors Michael Robotham, Melissa Ashley and Roanna Gonsalves.

I love listening to other authors and hearing their methods, experiences, challenges and how they immerse themselves in their characters.

Michael Robotham is an international crime writer and while his books are darker and more intense than anything I will ever write, he does have a series with a key character who has been around for a long time which piqued my interest.

When I write about 10 year old Charlie, I have to find the time and space to become Charlie.  I need to dig deep into my inner child and let that 10 year old kid out who ultimately writes the books for me.

While I have a loose idea of what each book is going to be about I don't overly plan the plot. The story just unfolds on its own.  According to Deb and Jo, this makes me a "pantser" (flying by the seat of my pants).  They tell me that Michael is a bit of a pantser too. A pantser that writes thriller's and crime? Fascinating.

So yes, he piqued my interest.

The thing that jumped out at me the most during his chat was the fact that he has managed to make the main character in his series so believable, so popular and so REAL that some readers forget he is fictitious.

He told us how flattered he was when his most recognised character, Joe, received a marriage proposal via email.  He talked about another character who was due to give birth and people have stopped him in the streets to ask if she had a boy or a girl.  People are invested in his books and bond with his characters during the reading process.  They truly do become like friends.

Michael explained how to fully capture a character you have to inhabit the skins of others.  When he was asked if after 20 years he was sick of writing about Joe O'Loughlin, he explained that it was like "spending a year with your best friend in a two man tent".  You love them but after spending that much time together in such close proximity you end up wanting them to leave.  He's starting to feel like his series will need to come to an end.

Which had me wondering when my series will come to an end and when it does, how will I feel?

When I got back to my computer on Sunday afternoon I found an email to Charlie from a 9 year old girl.

Dear Charlie
I think you're a great cheerleader and I'm thinking of copying you by starting my own team. I hope that's OK with you.

I often get emails for Charlie. While I've thought it's lovely and cute, I've never really thought a lot about it.  I figured it was common. But now after listening to Michael I realise it's not all that common and perhaps the fact that kids think Charlie is real is kind of a big deal! 

I mean, I do have a "chat to Charlie" option on my website I suppose which does point kids in that direction - so I'm kind of cheating.  But I'll take it!  

I've also had children refer to me as Cheer Chick Charlie's mum and twice I've had mothers come to me and say (after reading one of the books to their child) "I didn't know that happened!" to which I had to reply "this book is fiction - none of this is real".  

Those comments would make me question myself as a writer.  I thought it may have been a mistake to make it too real and too believable because people were starting to blur the lines between fact and fiction.  After listening to Michael I'm thinking perhaps that's OK. Hearing his stories, his processes, his experiences and his interactions with his readers made me realise it's kind of cool to have these interactions myself.  It means I have actually managed to get inside somebody else's skin.

Thanks Michael for helping me to believe in Charlie all over again.

What fictional characters have you truly believed in?

Has there been a character you've wanted to marry?

Anybody read any of Michael's books?  

Michael's latest book "The Secrets She Keeps" is his new stand alone book available now.  Check out Debbish.com for her review. 


  1. How fantastic that you have had that feedback from parents and the kids themselves. I also think that means you've reached the kids. I love a book that drags me into the story line and makes it all feel so real.

  2. Wu just passed Maleny - this sounds like a wonderful event! I've always enjoyed Michael's books it must have been fascinating to listen to him and his methods. I love the term 'pantsy'!

  3. I have no real comments or replies but it sounds like it was a great panel session that gave you a lot to think about!

  4. Oh great wrap-up Leanne and it's wonderful you're able to relate it to your books. I liked the comments of all authors mentioning there's always a little bit of themselves in their characters. And I think creating characters others think of as real is very important. I'm the sort of person who gets very wrapped up in books, tv and movie characters that I tend to forget their lives aren't really at risk, or their heart hasn't really been broken etc...

  5. I have a bit of a crush on Jack Reacher :) What a great session to be a part of.

  6. I'm a pantser in most things, haha! I think it's amazing that Charlie is so real for so many fans- that's a huge accomplishment!


I love hearing your thoughts! Keep them rolling in :)

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