Tuesday 12 June 2012

Guest Post: Development of Central characters

Development of Central characters: Where do they come from?

By Zoe Brooks

In order for me to really enjoy a book, I need to care for the central character. I like her to be flawed and human, and I want to come to an understanding of her during the course of the story. One other thing I need - she should have some guts. It's what I attempt to do in my own books. It seems from the reviews that I have succeeded. But where did my central character come from?

When I was a little girl I used to get a comic called Bimbo (it really was called that) and my favourite bit was a series called The Further Adventures of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Having read it I would run up and down the hall inventing the next installment and somehow my version was always better than that which the real writers came up with. Even then I liked my heroines strong and active.

My reading of Bimbo may have stopped, but my favourite character stayed with me as the centre of my daydreams. She came in all sorts of forms as I would have several stories going at any one time and her trials and tribulations evolved as I did. Looking back I now realise that I used her as a mechanism to explore the world and understand people I met in it. I still do.

Until a few years ago I worked with disadvantaged communities and people on the edge of society. For over twenty years I was privileged to work with the homeless, refugees and asylum seekers, people with mental health problems, abused women, and more. The stories I heard were both awful and inspiring. There is nothing that a writer can invent for her character that is worse than what happens on a daily basis all over the world. Just look at what is happening now in Sudan or Libya. But it isn't just happening in other countries, I have stood in an office as a helpworker spoke to a woman on the telephone: "Your husband held a knife to your neck..." How did I process this? Of course I worked it through in the form of stories. But after twenty years even that was not enough. I could no longer continue in my work. All my layers of thick skin had been peeled away and I no longer had the strength to cope with the pressure. Worst of all I felt I was failing the people I wanted to help. I had to walk away from my career. I decided I would write.

I had been successful as a poet in my youth, but I decided I would turn my hand to writing children's books - nothing too demanding. I was lucky in having a professional story editor as a close friend. When I showed my first draft to her, she immediately picked up on a minor character and wanted to know more. Why was I so ambiguous about this woman? I rewrote the book and very soon this secondary character was demanding my attention. What was her story? What was her secret? I tried to write a book devoted to her, but still somehow for some reason I was holding back on her.

At last I recognised that Anya deserved my full emotional commitment and a book for adults not children, although young adults (16+) seem to identify with her strongly too. I describe it as a Cinderella story for adults in the blurb on Amazon, but I will let you into a secret without, I hope, spoiling the story too much: it is really a Cinderella meets Bluebeard story. Why? Because in the real world after years of abuse Cinderella's sense of self-worth would be damaged and she would be attracted to dangerous men.

The first draft was written in only a month and there she was on the page: complex, frustrating and loveable. She is not me. I had a happy childhood, have only loved one wonderful man. I grew up in an environment in which strong-willed women were encouraged and not punished. But I know and have loved women who have given different aspects of Anya to me. And now I lay her before the world in the hope that my readers too will love her and maybe understand all those other Anyas.

I cried when I got my first review, (from Karen Bryant Doering, Parents' Little Black Book ). Here's why:

"This novel haunts the soul in its depiction of women who are marginalized by a society that considers them of little value. But it is also heartwarming as it leads us through Anya's life as she fights for her freedom and education. Like the flower that grows in the cracks of a sidewalk even the abused, mistreated and unwanted find a way to thrive."


Ritesh: Which character's development story would you as a reader be interested in knowing? For me, I'd love to know how all of Ayn Rand's characters developed. I love her books, and have always wondered if her philosophy created her characters, or if her characters influenced her philosophy.  Authors, how have the central characters of your books developed? What are they influenced by? What is the story behind them?


About Author Zoe Brooks

Zoe Brooks is a British writer and poet, who spends half her life in a partly restored old farmhouse in the Czech Republic, where she writes all her novels and poetry. She aims to write popular books, which have complex characters and themes that get under the reader's skin.

Zoe was a successful published poet in her teens and twenties, (featuring in the Grandchildren of Albion anthology). In May 2012 she published her long poem for voices Fool's Paradise as an ebook on Amazon. Girl In The Glass - the first novel in a trilogy about the woman and healer Anya was published on Amazon in March 2012. You can find more about Zoe at:

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Girl In The Glass by Zoe Brooks 

“I will have to say it: 'I am Anya and I am nothing'. I will look down at the floor as I say it, so that I don't see the smile on my aunt's face, so she won't see the defiance in my eyes. She will get her victory. She always wins these battles. I know it, she knows it. But one day, one day she will not.”

In this Cinderella story for adults there is no fairy godmother and no handsome prince, just a girl of spirit and her strange companion.

Orphaned at the age of 10 in circumstances that she refuses to explain, Anya grows up trapped in the house of her abusive aunt where she and  Eva, her Shadow, are treated as slaves. As her aunt tries to break her and the punishments become increasingly life-threatening, Anya struggles to find  affection and self-esteem. When the inevitable showdown arrives, where will Anya find the strength to survive and escape? And if she does escape, what then? An arduous walk across an unforgiving desert to a city where an even worse danger lies.

Buy on: Amazonor Smashwords


  1. This was an excellent and engaging post. I too deal with a very stressful job. People ask, "If you're not a cop, how can your job be stressful?" They forget, there are some who prefer to come to the police station and pour our their sorrows. Police clerical workers are on the front lines when that happens. I've drawn many of the strong characters from my own personal experience on the job. As they say, truth is stranger than fiction. Thank you Zoe Brooks and Ritesh Kala!

    1. I'm also busy working on my novel (on and off), and it's mostly based on my own experiences as well as from what people have told me about their own. It's crazy (in a good way) but still truthful... I play around with it either exaggerating them or down playing them...