The Crime Writers’ Association

Developing characters by Pauline Rowson

Developing Characters – Pauline Rowson

Creating a likeable, interesting and complex main character, one the reader can have empathy with, one they want to trust, to feel his/her pain and disappointments, root for throughout the story is a vitally important ingredient in penning a successful crime novel. And it’s not just the main character but the supporting cast, the villains and the walk-on parts who all need characteristics that are believable, even if they are eccentric, which will engage the reader.

Heroes in detective novels are often ordinary people with their own set of problems and the key to producing a successful crime novel is not necessarily that the hero saves the world, aka James Bond – although a thriller writer might disagree – but that he also learns something about himself along the way. Putting ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances builds tension.


Main characters can and do have faults but they change and grow throughout the novel. They make mistakes, sometimes they learn from them and sometimes they don’t. Often they have a cardinal quality and a trait/s that holds them back. DI Andy Horton is fearless in his search for justice. But Andy Horton hates conforming and therefore risks being alone and that is his greatest fear. Abandoned by his mother at the age of ten and raised in children’s homes and with a succession of foster parents he has a desperate need to belong and yet because of his inability to trust, he is always on the outside.

When drawing up character profiles I ask myself what has shaped them? What is their background, family, education and experiences? Some profiles might be sketchier than others. But that doesn’t matter because when I start putting dialogue into their mouths and have them walking around and interacting with people they come alive and I can add to those character profiles as they take shape through my writing.

The characters’ actions drive the plot. The surprises, twists and turns all spring from the characters’ motivations and as I write I find ideas occurring to me that I hadn’t previously considered. I often also discover that someone I thought was going to be a minor character turns out to be much more interesting when I write their part, and conversely a major character can become boring and sometimes unnecessary, if that happens then I cut him/her.

As I write I ask myself what will this character do in this situation? What will he/she do next? I continually ask questions about each character and answer them as the novel progresses. I shape and reshape them. I put them in difficult or unusual situations, and as I do so the story unfolds and the tension builds.

Pauline Rowson is the author of twelve novels in the DI Andy Horton mystery series set in the Solent area on the South Coast of England. In addition, she has written two standalone crime novels, In Cold Daylight and In For The Kill, and two crime novels featuring Art Marvik, a former Royal Marine Commando, Special Boat Services Officer, turned undercover investigator for the UK’s National Intelligence Marine Squad (NIMS) who appears in Silent Running and Dangerous Cargo published by Severn House.

Her crime novels have received critical acclaim in both the UK and the USA where they have been hailed as ‘complex, ‘multi-layered’ and ‘compelling’.

For further information visit Pauline Rowson’s Website

You can also follow Pauline Rowson on Twitter and on Facebook

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