Give your characters real problems, and let them make big mistakes. Not a Hollywoodish simulacrum of a problem, which are fixed by being brave, honest and nice enough. Pose questions that you yourself don’t have an easy answer for. Make good people responsible for doing bad things, and find out why. It’s tempting as God of a fictional universe to be morally neat and tidy, but writing gets a lot more interesting when you’re prepared to explore life’s vast grey areas. Overt villainy can be fun to write, but how ordinarily flawed people justify doing things they shouldn’t, is how you create nuanced, realistic characters. If you want novels about relationships to say something, that’s how they start speaking.
Become an avid collector of excuses, of rationalisations, of the shortfall between the motives that people acknowledge and the ones they don’t, the way they see themselves, and the reality. At the start of my book Last Night, the heroine Eve explains the origins of her unconsummated love with her friend Ed, and although she has her rationale for their present day impasse worked out carefully, by the end of the story she has learned to see him, and their situation, quite differently. You can only take the reader with you on a character’s emotional journey to a revelation if you’re convincing about the ways we deceive ourselves, and others.
- Mhairi McFarlane
About the Author
Sunday Times bestselling author, Mhairi McFarlane, was born in Scotland in 1976 and her unnecessarily confusing name is pronounced Vah-Ree. After some efforts at journalism, she started writing novels and her first book, You Had Me At Hello, was an instant success. Last Night is her seventh book and available through HarperCollins.