Where Do Your Characters Come From?

Nik Morton provides us with an interesting insight into the workings of his mind on my blog today. He will always be one of my favourite authors, not least because he said my book reminded him of the work of Nobel Laureate, the late Doris Lessing! (You can read Nik’s review of Breath of Africa here.) And you can read my review of his riveting novel  Blood of the Dragon Trees, here.

And now Nik is launching the second of his books published by Crooked Cat,  a collection of stories called Spanish Eye.

The very best of luck with these stories, Nik – and I am intrigued by your mature reflections on how characters are developed.


Sometimes, I’m asked ‘Where do your characters come from?’ Each author will doubtless have a different response to that question, but here’s mine.

Inevitably, some aspects of a character will reflect the author’s traits or beliefs, his or her values, even. But, in fiction, it’s going to be rare for a character to be wholly autobiographical. People in history serve as templates, certainly; sometimes these can be an amalgam – for example, Hornblower was not simply Admiral Cochrane, but also a number of other seafarers of the period. Fleming modelled Bond on several men he knew while working in intelligence. We’re influenced by other books we’ve read, too – even if only to avoid what has been done before!

Often, the character springs from an idea – a situation, which may be a news event, or something that happened in history.

And the character – as well as the storyline – will sometimes determine whether it will be a first person or a third person narrative.

For my Sister Rose character, I’d wanted to find a type of sleuth that hadn’t been encountered yet, and thought of a nun (since our daughter was at a convent school). Not so easy, since there are dozens of clerical detectives scattered through crime fiction. But nobody had hit upon a nun being an ex-cop. It’s not uncommon for mature women from all professions to join an Order. Then I had quite a bit of research to do! But the character is unique, especially as revealed in the first person. (Pain Wears No Mask is out of print, and has been retitled Bread of Tears for eventual republication!)

For my westerns, the origin of character stems from a number of sources.

My first western hinged on a few sentences I’d thought up and which hung around the back of my mind for a number of years: ‘He was dressed entirely in black. Black because he was in mourning. Mourning the men he had killed.’ I gave him a name, James Thorpe, and then had to decide upon his motivation; why did he kill?

Science fiction author Daniel F Galouye wrote Dark Universe (1961) which is set in lightless caves so all the characterisation has to be created without visual clues, so it’s highly likely that this idea evolved into my western Blind Justice at Wedlock, where I set myself a challenge of writing about a hero who was blinded at the beginning of the book. How would he cope, how would he trace his abducted wife?

‘When Clint Brennan came to, he felt Mutt’s tongue licking his temple and cheek. Maybe the dog had brought him back to consciousness. He opened his eyes and realized that the world had changed. It was forbidding and dark. In more ways than one, light had gone out of his life. He raised his left arm and stroked the animal’s matted hair where the bullet had entered Mutt’s flank; it had bled some, but the fur was now just slightly tacky. He heard the dog’s steady panting and smelled his breath, but he couldn’t see him. The brutal truth was that he couldn’t see anything. He was blind.’

Psychic spy Tana Standish began as a character in a short story, The Ouija Message, which grew out of a ‘genuine’ ouija session where I proposed that the gibberish was actually code – being sent by the captive Tana… That story grew in the writing and took shape over several years to eventually become the first in a series (The Prague Manuscript, The Tehran Transmission – presently out of print).

Leon Cazador came to me one week when I, among others in our writers’ circle weekly theme test, was writing a short story containing the last line: ‘the door closed behind him and he was left alone in the dark.’ My story became ‘Shattered Dream’, in ‘his own words’.  For perfectly valid point-of-view reasons, only part of the line has survived for the reprinted version in Spanish Eye. This was my first Cazador story and the character and his voice seemed to say something to me – so much so that I wrote a Cazador story each month for the local magazine – see the publishing history at the end of Spanish Eye – for a straight nine months; other tales followed as magazines folded and new ones appeared. (At the time, I was also writing a regular column, book and film reviews).

Having written over 20 books, there are quite a few other main characters, whether that’s the man with a hook, the man who straps on his guns again when he’s 62, or the female chemist Cat Vibrisae on her mission to destroy Cerberus Corp; simply too many to mention here.

Yes, the characters are as important as the plot – without the plot, there’s no story; but without an engaging main character, there’s no reader involvement. Where they come from is indeed happenstance, serendipity or an over-active subconscious!

Through the eyes of Leon Cazador, half-English, half-Spanish private investigator, we experience the human condition in many guises. This collection covers twenty two cases, some insightful, some humorous, and some tragic. The tales evoke tears and laughter, pleasure at the downfall of criminals, and anger at arrogant evil-doers. Overall, Cazador’s tales confirm universal values.

Sometimes, Cazador operates in disguise under several aliases, among them Carlos Ortiz Santos, a modern day Simon Templar; he is wholly against the ungodly and tries to hold back the encroaching night of unreason.

Cazador translated into English means hunter.

He combats drug-traffickers, grave robbers, al-Qaeda infiltrators, misguided terrorists and conmen. Dodgy Spanish developers and shady expat English face his wrath. Traders in human beings, stolen vehicles and endangered species meet their match. Kidnappers, crooked mayors and conniving Lotharios come within his orbit of ire.

“Prickly Pair” amusingly depicts a married couple who appear to serve others while merely serving themselves. “Night Fishing” is a sympathetic examination of a fisherman who risks all by bending the rules to give his blind wife Lucia a special gift. “Off Plan” and “Lonely Hearts” are about folks guilty only of trust. “Grave Concerns” poignantly presents a terrible moral dilemma for a father and his daughter. “Gone Missing” is an intriguing day-in-the-life tale, while “Inn Time” is a heartfelt plea for peace…


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2 Responses to Where Do Your Characters Come From?

  1. Nik Morton says:

    Many thanks for the invitation to your blog, Jane, it’s much appreciated.

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