Creating a Hero(ine)

A key ingredient of a bestselling novel is character. The people in the novel and the relationships between them bring the plot to life.

A character needs to have agency, to act and do, rather than think and be. These characters behave differently to the masses. There is something that makes them special. They are unlike us. From childhood we’re taught to be polite, say please and thank you and sometimes to just let things go. We’re taught to apologise if we might be wrong and to qualify our statements with “I think” and “I believe.” But this minimises what we have to say. A heroic character in a novel does none of these things – she doesn’t let things go and she doesn’t apologise. She is active rather than passive.

My lead character, Claire, will have the drive to change her situation. She will do everything she can to turn things round, and even when things aren’t going her way she will keep fighting. She’ll be angry when things are unfair and she’s do something about it. She will need things rather than wish for things. She will act rather than consider.

In The Bestseller Code, Archer & Jockers list some of the most commonly used verbs in bestsellers (the list below is specific to female characters – men have a slightly different list!):

needs, wants, misses, loves, tells, likes, sees, hears, smiles, reaches, pulls, pushes, starts, works, knows, arrives, spends, walks, prays, hugs, talks, reads, imagines, decides, believes,  screams, shoves, eats, nods, opens, closes, says, sleeps, types, watches, turns, runs, shoots, kisses, dies

And, for completeness, here are the verbs that don’t work (I’ll end up editing these ones out of my novel):

shouts, flings, whirls, thrusts, murmurs, protests, hesitates, halts, drops, accepts, dislikes, seems, supposes, recovers, grunts, clutches, peers, gulps, flushes, trembles, clings, jerks, shivers, breaks, fumbles

Character Naming Ceremony

Now I have an idea of my concept, I need to start naming my characters.

There are three key characters in the novel as it stands:

  • The protagonist: late 20s, early 30s, female, mother
  • The antagonist: same age, female
  • The protagonists husband: same age, male, father

This is going to be a story about when bad things happen to an ordinary family. So I want to choose ordinary names – names that were popular around the times my characters were born.

A quick google of popular names in the UK in the 1980s has given me the following list:

Girls: Sarah, Laura, Gemma, Emma, Rebecca, Claire, Victoria, Samantha, Rachel, Amy

Boys: Christopher, James, David, Daniel, Michael, Matthew, Andrew, Richard, Paul, Mark

I don’t like to choose names when I know a person with that name particularly well, so that rules out a few. And I don’t want to use names like Amy and Rachel, as these were the protagonists in Gone Girl, and The Girl on the Train.

So I think I’m going to name my ordinary couple Claire and Matt

My antagonist isn’t who she seems…she has chosen her name herself, to blend in with a crowd. She’s going to choose “Emma” for precisely the same reasons as I’ve chosen my characters’ names. “Everyone knows an Emma.” So if someone asks if they’ve met her, they might say yes, even if they haven’t. An Emma who’s a mother. The kind of person everyone knows.