WRITING - How I Build Fictional Characters

British Author, Siobhan C Cunningham, S C Cunningham, Thriller Author, Crime Author, Psychological Thriller, Thriller, Amazon Author, Goodreads, Characterisation, Characters, Fictional Characters, Writing,


by Author S C Cunningham

When building a character I draw from observations of people I know or have closely watched, it’s easier to write from truth.  Luckily, I’ve worked in a few fascinating industries, where I've been able to study a wide range of characters.

British born of Irish parents I was plonked from the age of 8yrs into an Irish Catholic Nuns Boarding School. After a short spell of studying law (realising there is too much injustice in our systems) I went on to work as a fashion model, married a rockmusician and worked in the music to film industry. Got divorced and then as a single mum worked within sports celebrity management, football, horseracing, children’s charities, and more recently for the Police as a Crime Investigator – Intel Analyst, Major Crime Team, Wanted and Absconder Units.

Oh yes… and somewhere in there I got drunk and married again in Vegas, oops! Am a proud mum to a wonderful daughter (Contemporary Artist) and owned by three dogs.

For the past ten years I’ve been drawing on these experiences to write steamy Psychological Thrillers ‘The David Trilogy’ and gritty Paranormal Crime Romance ‘The Fallen Angel Series’. And I’ve learned to prefer dogs over humans… mostly.

I tend to write what I know; the characters in both series of books are founded on real life experiences.

‘The David Trilogy’ - The Penance List character was kick-started by an incident that happened to me in my twenties, when I was living in London. Frighteningly, I crossed paths with a prolific serial attacker who was targeting single girls living on their own in basement flats in Notting Hill and Olympia.

I got away unscathed (must have an Angel looking out for me) and helped Police with ID’ing the suspect. He was a nice looking, well dressed, calm, cold, cunning character. He didn’t say a word, he just watched, enjoying the fear he was instilling.

I remember looking into his face and wondering why? What awful thing had happened in his life to turn him from a sweet little boy into an evil adult? The seed for complex David Howard was sown.

Using a mix of my own experiences (nuns, boarding school, modelling, the press and celebrity management) I created his world of manipulation, shining a light on the carnage that the misuse of power, religion and passion causes.

‘The Fallen Angel Series’ - The Deal characterisation was also kick-started by a person I met as a child. At 4yrs old I was taken, I survived (that Angel again!), another little girl was taken the following week, she didn’t. Coming from an Irish catholic family, I prayed each night to God asking him for a deal. That if I was a good girl, when I died, would he let me sit on a cloud, invisible, and help catch the baddies who slip through his fingers? 

That incident and how a little girl reacted to it stayed with me. I’m not religious, but I do believe there’s something out there, an energy, maybe quantum physics we don’t understand yet. So I’ve turned the idea into a paranormal crime romance, with the lead character Amy Fox based on that little girl and her deal. And started to create her character.

We find career girl Amy aged 30yrs, with God and her deal long forgotten, mysteriously dying, under a London tube train. Awakening to find herself in an MI5’esque Unit that dishes out tough karma from the skies, wondering what the hell is going on? 

Having formed her reason and background story, I had fun pushing her outside her comfort zone and adding further details that build up her personality. I gave her defects and flaws (stubborn, demanding, soft hearted), internal dialogue (muttering to herself, asking why, talking through insecurities and dilemmas), ambition and motivation (the end game, revenge), weaknesses (the handsome ex SAS Jack, impatience, temper, honesty, insecurity), relationships (Jack, parents, best friend Sally), and threw a third party love triangle into the mix (Jack and his evil ex, Mara). And before you know it… voila, I have a 3D character to work with.

I enjoy complex characters that slowly reveal themselves, are not who they seem and engage with the reader, pulling at heartstrings and worst fears. I try to create a person who the reader would either like to hang out with or see as their worst enemy. Someone they feel empathy for and understand their choices, right or wrong. Someone they champion and punch the air with a resounding “Yessss!”

Because I’m an old romantic who loves a bit of drama my books also have to have a few oh-so-sexy personalities with complicated love lives, evil exes, edge of seat fear, twists, turns, steamy romances and cheeky laugh out loud banter.

Working on a series allows you to build characters that hopefully people will fall in love with and get excited about. In The Penance List David is a very bad person, but fans often write saying that they love him warts and all, and can’t wait to see what he does next. They understand and champion the boy, but fear the man he has become.

Like me, they are hooked on his charismatic charm. I loved this character so much I have dragged him kicking and screaming into ‘The Fallen Angel Series’.

The Penance List is a sexy thriller, think Psycho meets 50 Shades. It can be a little naughty and may not be for everyone. But if you’re brave enough, grab a glass of vino, close the bedroom door and read alone.

I hope you enjoy my characters, and keep safe.

Siobhan x


PURCHASE books by S C Cunningham HERE

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