Monday, 17 September 2012

#Guest Post - Author Linda Gillard on Creating Characters in fiction.

Hello RFWers!

This week our guest author post is from Linda Gillard, a new favourite author of mine. Linda creates the most amazing, out-of-the-box non-stereotypical characters. She is going to share her method of creating characters with us.


Hello everyone. 
As a reader, I tend to have clear ideas about what fictional characters should look like, but I’m not always certain what my own characters look like. When I was writing my first novel, EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY, I kept visualising myself as my heroine Rose, simply because she was the same age as me and like me, she made quilts.

Rose looked quite different from me in the book, but somehow I still couldn’t see her, so I decided to look through magazines until I found a photo of someone who looked something like my idea of Rose. Eventually I found one and the character finally took off.

Photos bailed me out again when I was writing my third novel, STAR GAZING. I got stuck early on with my strong-but-silent Scots hero, Keir. I knew how he spoke, how he behaved and I knew he was a gentle giant, but I just couldn’t visualise him in any detail. (This was probably something to do with the fact that my heroine never sees Keir because she’s blind.) The book was limping along with a gap where Keir should have been in all his physical glory. Then one day I saw a photo in a magazine of Gerard Butler displaying the exact blend of virility and vulnerability that I’d envisaged for Keir. Once I’d “cast” Butler, the character took off and the book practically wrote itself.

Gerald Butler
Now when I’m starting a novel, I routinely “audition” for my major characters. I used to cut pictures out of magazines and make scrapbooks, but nowadays I tend to search online and put photos on my desktop. They could be of anyone, not necessarily celebrities. I don’t even have to know who they are or what they do. It’s just the look of the person that’s important.

I’ts a bit of a mystery where my characters actually come from.  Characters just seem to jump into my head. They seem like real people, friends I haven’t met yet. Writing the novel is a sort of discovery process for me. I’m only interested in writing about people I like or find fascinating, so I think I just make up people I want to spend time with. (And it’s a lot of time. I might spend two years working on a book, so my characters need to be complex to absorb me for that length of time.) But I can’t claim to understand my creative process. My son once referred to my writing as playing with my imaginary friends. I think that’s a pretty good description of what I do!

I write about spiky, awkward, real women and most of them aren’t young, pretty or thin, which only compounds their felonies. The heroine of STAR GAZING is middle-aged, widowed and blind and she’s not too happy about any of that. (In fact the Scots hero describes her as "crabbit".) Over the years my heroines’ bolshy behaviour has led to some editorial conflict as I’ve resisted attempts made by patient and longsuffering editors to make my female protagonists nicer

It’s not just that I think, in fiction, nice is generally boring. It’s that I’m steeped in the classics and know niceness is not necessary; that many a book has stood the test of time despite the heroine’s lack of social skills.

Don't miss LInda's latest book, The Glass Guardian

Ruth Travers has lost a lover, both parents and her job. Now she thinks she might be losing her mind...

When death strikes again, Ruth finds herself the owner of a dilapidated Victorian house on the Isle of Skye: Tigh na Linne, the summer home she shared as a child with her beloved Aunt Janet, the woman she’d regarded as a mother. 

As Ruth prepares to put the old house up for sale, she’s astonished to find she’s not the only occupant. Worse, she suspects she might be falling in love... 

With a man who died almost a hundred years ago.

Other books by Linda and how to buy -

Linda Gillard lives in the Scottish Highlands and has been an actress, journalist and teacher. She’s the author of six novels, including STAR GAZING, short-listed in 2009 for Romantic Novel of the Year and the Robin Jenkins Literary Award (for writing that promotes the Scottish landscape.) STAR GAZING was also votedFavourite Romantic Novel 1960 - 2010 by Woman's Weekly readers.  

Linda's fourth novel, HOUSE OF SILENCE became a Kindle bestseller, selling over 20,000 copies in its first year. It was selected by Amazon as one of their Top Ten "Best of 2011" in the Indie Author category.

Contact RFW hosts if you want to write for us.

Don't forget our next challenge this Friday Sept 21st.  Linky will go up Thursday AEST.

Go to the Challenges Page for more details of this and forthcoming challenges...


  1. Thanks for visiting us today Linda. I can learn so much about creating characters from this.

  2. Love the concept of "casting" and "auditioning" characters to help define them. I've recently started this practice myself. I'd always thought it kinda corny, but it does help keep a specific description in mind throughout the controversial writing.

    It was nice to meet you Linda. I like that you write women with "character" and not always make them PC. Really, sometimes all this "girl power" mentality scratches at my sensibilities. (Not that I'm against heroines . .)

    Have a great week Linda, and thanks for guesting with us this. A thoroughly enjoyable read.


  3. A lovely interesting interview. I love the idea of having a picture to look at of your characters. I will look out for your books now.

  4. Thanks everyone for the positive feedback and many thanks to Denise for hosting. :-)

  5. Thanks for your inputs Linda. All the best with your book :D

  6. Nice to "meet" you Linda. Your books sound like something I need to check out.
    I always have to have a picture of a character to write them. Gerald Butler is an excellent choice :)

  7. Must be tough auditioning good looking men like Gerald Butler! Sounds like you're having a lot of fun with your characters and being brave stepping out of the usual mould :)

  8. I've been doing it backwards, I'll have to try your method. Great post!

  9. Hi Linda,

    Great post, and love the way you can't explain how characters pop into your head. But those who come of their own volition rather than conjured (worried into being) are so much more convincing! ;)

    Hope everything is going well for you in other respects.


  10. Loved the interview, ladies. I'm glad to discover I'm not the only one who cuts out / prints pictures to help sketch a character. It truly brings them to life for me.

  11. Thanks everyone for the positive comments. Glad to hear I'm not the only one who has a wacky way with inventing characters! Writing manuals imply that you need to to know the contents of a character's school report and what they eat for breakfast before you're qualified to write about them, but I always start out knowing very little about mine (but I have some strong hunches.)

    Writing a novel is a process of discovery for me and I think consequently for my readers. Writing this way also avoids information dumps which I find boring to read & write. I like hints and suggestions when I'm reading a novel. I don't like to be spoon-fed. And a certain amount of enigma is what you want with heroes, isn't it?

  12. I really like this interview! I agree with Donna about the 'casting' of her characters roles and having images of people 'audition' for parts in her novel. It sounds like a fun way of working and may come from her background as an actress.

    I must read Linda's books.


  13. By the way, Linda, I love quilts and quilt-making.
    Best wishes,

  14. Anna, you might enjoy one of my more recent novels, UNTYING THE KNOT which is about a Fay, 45-year old divorced textile artist who specialises in making memorial quilts and wall-hangings. (My picture model for her was the gorgeous French actress Audrey Tautou.)

    Fay is a soldier's wife who walked away from her traumatised ex-bomb-squad husband, even though they were still in love. The reasons why she went are part of the mystery element in the book - mystery because I play around with the concept of a first-person "unreliable narrator". What you see in this book isn't necessarily what you get!

    I billed this book on Amazon as "FOUR WEDDINGS & A FUNERAL meets THE HURT LOCKER". It's actually my most romantic book yet, despite the sombre subject matter and Magnus has become one of my favourite heroes.

    UNTYING THE KNOT is Kindle-only so far.

    It was recently awarded a US B.R.A.G Medallion. (Book Readers' Appreciation Group.)

    1. Congratulations on your latest award Linda. I've added Emotional Geology to the list. I'm sorry about not having that link up!
      Thanks for guesting with us and I do hope it results in further sales.

  15. Thanks, Denise. It's been great to have the opportunity to talk to you all and be given such a nice welcome. :-)

  16. Well, I missed Linda, but I must say that posting a picture is a great idea.

  17. I'll leave you with a photo of my ghost hero in THE GLASS GUARDIAN. How do you find a picture of a ghost? Let alone a red-headed ghost? I wasn't doing too well with actors who all looked far too robust. I needed someone rather strange and ethereal. I didn't want him to be a handsome hunk either.

    I eventually came across an extraordinary-looking British classical dancer called Edward Watson who was just perfect! As soon as I'd "cast" Watson as my ghost, my novel took off.


    1. I'm really going to try this Linda, as I write ghost stories! Thanks again for coming and I'm looking forward to your post on my blog.

  18. I think the thing about using photos is, they can capture a mood & an atmosphere which can get your creative juices going. As writers we're very responsive, sensitive people (aren't we?!) and I think it's sometimes easier to respond to something and maybe adapt it than create something from scratch.

    But my work with photos is just the beginning - the initial spark that gets me going. My characters develop in their own way once they start talking to me.

    I definitely think it's a good way of avoiding physical stereotypes and taking yourself out of your writing comfort zone.

  19. I love Linda's post. This is how I started working on my WIP to help me see my characters better too. It's a really effective method.
    Congrats to Linda on her writing success too.
    Love the quilt. Gorgeous!

    1. Quilting must be such a satisfying thing to do.


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