Earlier today, James Phelan chaired a discussion with crimewriters Gabrielle Lord and Michael Robotham, about how to create a kick-ass character. Top tips from Gabrielle included being aware that your audience wants drama, and an effective way to give it to them is to make your characters larger-than-life, to give them experiences and trauma that make them different from the average person. A good backstory that influences their actions will make them interesting, and add layers to your character. Gabrielle also recommends UST – unexpressed sexual tension, but admits that the moment the couple acts on their attraction and becomes a couple, it can be difficult to maintain the same levels of tension and conflict. In contrast, Michael revealed that he likes to take ordinary, relateable people, and place them in extraordinary situations. Their reactions, and the ‘true colours’ they show, can illustrate character development; examples he used included Oskar Schindler, from Schindler’s List, and Rick from Casablanca. He attributes his interest in ‘normal’ people to his years in journalism, where he saw ordinary people do amazing things. Gabrielle, Michael and James then discussed writing from the perspective of the opposite gender; each agreed that the best way to write from the perspective of the opposite sex was to ask them; to talk to a woman about how she might react in the hypothetical situation you want to put your female character in, or listen to a man talk about himself and others. Gabrielle and Michael also acknowledged that it’s important for your character to have a physical presence, and that the reader needs to be aware of their physical state. For example, one of Michael’s characters has early-onset Parkinson’s, and as he can no longer rely on his body, he focuses on sharpening his mind (and became more of a cerebral ass-kicker). The panel concluded with final comments and advice; Gabrielle finds a great deal of satisfaction in a good plot, and researches heavily so she can build a good, strong, rich story, and Michael chooses to write about stories and experiences that resonate with him. With much cheeky banter, these panellists offered great insights into how to create an engaging, readable, and, most importantly, kick-ass character.

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