Guest Post: The Importance of Character by David Jackson

Thursday 14 April 2016
Today I am thrilled to be part of the blog tour for David Jackson's amazing new novel, A Tapping at My Door. In case you missed it, I shared a Hall of Fame review for it the other day which you can read here and at the time of writing it's one of the best crime novels that I've read this year and I highly recommend it. As part of the blog tour I am sharing a guest post from David where he discussed the importance of character. I hope you enjoy reading the post and do not hesitate to buy the book if you haven't already. You won't regret it!

A woman at home in Liverpool is disturbed by a persistent tapping at her back door. She's disturbed to discover the culprit is a raven, and tries to shoo it away. Which is when the killer strikes.

DS Nathan Cody, still bearing the scars of an undercover mission that went horrifyingly wrong, is put on the case. But the police have no leads, except the body of the bird - and the victim's missing eyes.

As flashbacks from his past begin to intrude, Cody realises he is battling not just a murderer, but his own inner demons too.

And then the killer strikes again, and Cody realises the threat isn't to the people of Liverpool after all - it's to the police.

The Importance of Character
by David Jackson

I have seen story defined in many different ways. For me, story is a fusion of plot and character, with the emphasis on the latter. Don’t get me wrong – I love a good plot, especially if it has lots of ingenious twists and turns – but you’re not going to get me to turn the pages for very long if I’m not engaged with the central characters.

So how do authors create compelling characters?

The first thing to realise is that fictional people are not like real people. For the most part, readers aren’t interested in real people and the real things they do, unless those people are celebrities or have done something exceptional.

And that word ‘exceptional’ is what’s key here. Characters you want to read about are exceptional in some way. If they are brave, they can take down a whole army unit. If they are handsome, they can turn heads every time they walk into a room. But exceptional doesn’t have to be the same as appealing or desirable. A character can be made interesting by making them strikingly ugly or despicably cowardly. Think about Hannibal Lecter. We want to read about him because he is exceptionally evil. Ebenezer Scrooge is exceptionally tight-fisted and selfish. Both of those characters, however, have the potential to redeem themselves.

The other way in which characters can be exceptional is that they ‘do’ more than real people. In crime novels, the lead detective solves more murders than any real copper, or gets into more scrapes, car chases and shootouts than their real-world counterparts. Even if they are portrayed as ‘ordinary’ in a book, they are extraordinarily ordinary, with more things happening to them than is usual.

Readers like characters who are proactive – who go out and get things done. They like them to be strong and willful, not weak and passive. For this to work, the character has to be given a goal. In ‘Moby Dick’, Ahab is obsessed with killing the whale. In ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’, McMurphy is determined to win the power struggle in the mental hospital. In ‘The Godfather’, Michael Corleone steps up to protect his family. These are all strong goals, and where stories become gripping is when these characters encounter others who have very different goals, because that’s when you get conflict.

When it comes to character, an advantage that novels have over television and film is that we can get inside people’s heads. We can describe what they are thinking, what they’re feeling, what they remember, what they hope for. This is of enormous help in making a character seem real to us, even when that character appears for only a short time in a book. This is especially useful when we bring in minor characters that we intend to kill off. By revealing their thoughts and desires and history, we make them more human, and so the impact of their death will be more keenly felt by the reader.

So there you have it. By all means kill your characters off. But first of all make them live.


  1. I enjoyed this book so much! The characters in this book are so authentic it lifts the whole plot (which is exceptional) It's definitely one of my best reads of this year too!

  2. I didn't really like the plot solution in Cry Baby but I think I'm going to give it another chance and read this one !


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