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Villains and heroes give readers skin in the game



As an espionage author, one of the most important aspects of my writing is characterisation. The characters in my novels are complex, multifaceted individuals who inhabit a world of intrigue, danger, and espionage. In this blog post, I want to explore the art of characterisation in espionage fiction and how it can be used to create compelling and unforgettable characters.

First and foremost, characterisation in espionage fiction is all about creating characters that are believable. These characters must be fully realized, with their own unique personalities, motivations, and flaws. Readers must be able to identify with these characters, even if they don't necessarily agree with their actions.

One of the keys to creating believable characters in espionage fiction is to focus on their backstory. Every character in my novels has a rich and detailed backstory that informs their present-day actions and decisions. This backstory is often revealed gradually over the course of the novel, as the character's motivations and past experiences come to light.

Another important aspect of characterisation in espionage fiction is the use of archetypes. Espionage novels are often populated with archetypal characters such as spies, double agents, and femme fatales. While these archetypes can sometimes be clichéd, they can also be used to great effect when they are subverted or played with in unexpected ways.

For example, in my novel "Keeping Secrets” one of the main characters is an ex agent who worked for MI6 as a femme fatale. Rather than portraying her as a dotty old lady, I sought to create a character who was conflicted and nuanced. She is motivated by a desire for revenge against the villain of the piece Bernard Cummings, but she also driven by grief over the loss of the love of her life which creates a sadness about her and everything she does. By playing on the idiosyncrasies of her character and her ability to take on multiple personas I was able to create a character who was both unpredictable and sympathetic.

In addition to backstory and archetypes, another important aspect of characterisation in espionage fiction is the use of dialogue. Dialogue is often the primary way that readers get to know a character's personality, motivations, and worldview. As an author, I try to make my characters' dialogue as natural and authentic as possible. This means that I spend a lot of time listening to how people actually speak in real life, and then incorporating those speech patterns and mannerisms into my characters' dialogue.

Finally, characterisation in espionage fiction is all about creating characters who are relatable. Even if my characters are living in a world of danger and intrigue, they still have everyday concerns and problems that readers can identify with. For example, in my novel "Hidden Secrets” the main character is a terrorist and assassin who turns supergrass and is struggling with what he has become and the people he is being forced to work with. While he has committed crimes, he could justify this to himself as a freedom fighter but the brutal world he now occupies cannot be justified as it trades in oppression and exploitation, the very things he used to fight against. He is far from perfect, but this dilemma he faces makes him a more relatable and human character, asking the question are people like this evil or do they just do bad things?

Characterisation is a critical aspect of espionage fiction. By creating fully realized, believable, and relatable characters, authors can transport readers to a world of intrigue and danger. Whether it's through rich backstories, subverted archetypes, authentic dialogue, or relatable personal struggles, characterisation is the key to creating characters that readers will remember long after they've finished reading the novel.


"You take people, you put them on a journey, you give them peril, you find out who they really are."Joss Whedon



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