The easiest way I’d recommended to make your characters believable is to draw on traits of people you know when fleshing them out.
Obviously, the most important thing is that your character be interesting to a reader. That usually means something dramatic or unique which will draw the reader in whether it’s a formative event, a character trait or something else. If the reader can’t relate to the character, though, this ‘hook’ no matter how compelling stands much less of a chance of working.
The two main characters in Incitement, Diane Mesi, the DEA agent trying to figure out what’s behind the conflict, and Michael Larsen, the mercenary fuelling the conflict, are examples of characters with exceptional abilities but commonplace, identifiable vulnerabilities. It was these vulnerabilities that I could draw on from the experience of people I had known over the years.
Diane Mesi doesn’t have a typical background in law enforcement, she joined the DEA after a completing a PhD in Economics and working a couple of years in the financial sector. Due to her background and natural characteristics, she looks at things differently than her colleagues and sees patterns that escape them. This results in her making investigative jumps during Incitement that are simply beyond others. Her stamina and doggedness are also exceptional; in the face of innumerable obstacles although she does sometimes doubt herself, she keeps going.
What makes Mesi identifiable for the reader is her isolation professionally and lack of fulfilment personally. Having changed careers at a time when other people have established their life, she doesn’t quite fit in with her former colleagues or her law enforcement co-workers. This makes it harder for her to rally support for her suspicions about the true nature of the conflict. Freshly appointed as the lead on a newly formed taskforce she also has to contend with resentment from people who think someone with more seniority and field experience should have gotten her job. Her difficulty is exacerbated by having no one to confide in outside the job. Divorced a number of years and having lost contact with her former work colleagues and college friends, she leads a quite solitary existence.
Over the years I’ve worked with women who operated in technical environments. Despite their qualifications and accomplishments, some of them failed to attain positions they deserved or had to work harder than should have been the case. Often they found themselves on the outside of various cliques. I felt that a woman with a financial and economic analysis background who’d gone on to work in law enforcement might face similar challenges. Similarly, I’ve known people who changed either countries or careers at a point in their life, usually post-20’s, when it was much harder to form new circles of friends and meaningful connections.
Michael Larsen is a ruthless killer with almost unique competencies which enable him to carry out the work he’s been contracted for. He’s also someone who has lost his way in life. Once a proud member of an elite unit of the Danish Special forces called the Jaegerkorpset, the missions he conducted on behalf of his country gradually changed him until eventually he resigned to become a gun-for-hire. A spiral ensued where he took contracts which were harder and harder to reconcile with who he once was. At the start of Incitement he’s taken on the contract to destroy the cartels, not because he believes he can achieve redemption but in the hope that it may redress some of the balance.
I’ve met quite a few people who can’t quite understand how they arrived at the point in their life which they find themselves and struggle to find a sense of purpose. Indeed, I suspect it’s probably a condition we’ve all experienced at some point however briefly. Oftentimes these people persist with a lifestyle or behavior which is damaging to them well beyond the point they were aware of the harm it was doing. Finally, when they did try to re-orient their life, the first few attempts were often misguided or not fully thought through.
I think that it’s important these real-life frailties don’t contradict the other elements of your characters and, if at all possible, complement them. With Mesi, for example, the isolation professionally makes her more likely to pursue leads others wouldn’t consider rather than if she were part of a well-defined structure and being closely monitored. Additionally, the closer she was to her colleagues the more likely it would be that she would conform or adopt a ‘groupthink’ perspective. Her life outside work has less support but also less distractions and she can immerse herself much more easily that might be the case with lots of other commitments personally.
A final recommendation I’d make would be to take some time to write a biography of your main characters up to the point where the book begins. I did this with Incitement and it helped immensely. This bio could be as short as a paragraph or a number of pages. The better you understand what has formed them, the easier it will be to be consistent in how you portray their actions and dialogue.
WINNER THE JOHN MURRAY SHOW / RTE GUIDE / KAZOO COMPETITION
A brutal conflict unleashed.
Who stands to win?
A bloody massacre at a Mexican heroin refinery; a Miami-bound freight ship hijacked for its cargo of illegal narcotics; the ruthless assassination of a Kosovar drug lord - a war has erupted between two drugs superpowers.
As DEA Agent Diane Mesi investigates she becomes convinced that the conflict is being orchestrated by an unknown third party. But she is marginalised by her colleagues and her judgement is challenged at every turn. Only if she can expose the truth will she be able to stop the violence and save her career.
Michael Larsen is an ex-soldier and hired mercenary who has been contracted to fuel the conflict at every opportunity until it destroys both sides. As he battles his own demons, he hopes that by directing the violence he will attain some measure of redemption.
But neither Mesi nor Larsen know the full extent of the forces at play or of what is truly at stake. As they each pursue their own resolution, the violence escalates and they become increasingly vulnerable to the dangers that stalk them.
Incitement won the John Murray Show / RTE Guide / Kazoo Competition from over 500 entries.
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Genre – Thriller
Rating – R
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