The Crime Readers' Association

‘What makes great characters tick?’ asks AA Chaudhuri

22nd June 2022

There’s something about the psychological genre that sucks me in like no other. The pervading sense of dread, the flawed narrator(s), the tension between characters, along with an iconic twist, all make for an utterly compelling, highly addictive genre. But it’s the chance to delve into the minds of my characters – to see what’s driving them, what makes them tick – that I love so much.

As with She’s Mine, for The Loyal Friend, I chose to write in the first person present and from multiple perspectives. Although this is by no means a pre-requisite for the genre, for me it fitted the story better and allowed for overlapping layers of doubt and intrigue to develop and flow through the book, the reader never quite sure who or what to believe. Multiple narrators allows you to create diverse characters, each of whom have a distinct voice, backstory, and agenda. I love switching between narrators, becoming a different person in each chapter, trying to feel and get across what it’s like to be that person, thereby helping the reader to understand what is motivating them.

However, if you are going to have multiple protagonists, great characterisation is key, bearing in mind their different ages, genders, professions, family backgrounds and so on. This should be the case for any type of book, but in psychological thrillers, which are character rather than plot-driven, it’s essential.

It’s vital readers understand what makes a specific character tick, thereby distinguishing them from others in the story. This can encompass how they look, speak, and present themselves to others. Would I recognise that character without their name being at the top of the chapter? For me, a character doesn’t necessarily have to be likeable, but it’s essential they draw you in and hold your interest because you, as a reader, want to feel that you ‘get’ that character and understand what’s motivating them.

Establishing this connection between the reader and a character is assisted by the author addressing certain relatable themes through said character. For example, one of my key protagonists – Grace – is a working mum struggling to cope with managing her job on top of a young family and caring for sick, elderly parents (a stressful situation so many women around the world, including myself, may find themselves in). My aim, through Grace’s voice and behaviour, was to make the readers feel her inner turmoil, the fact that her head is spinning with so many responsibilities she can’t see the wood for the trees, in contrast, say, to another of my characters – Susan – who’s extremely selfish and cares for no-one but herself, having no qualms about doing what suits her at others’ expense. We see this materialistic approach through her appearance as well as her voice, thereby making her stand out from Grace, whose voice and mannerisms are very different.

Making sure your characters have their own unique voices and idiosyncrasies makes for a more interesting, absorbing read, and it’s a skill I’m still honing and mindful of with every book I write!

You can read more about AA (Alex) Chaudhuri and her books here.

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