Hookline Books

About Me

Yvonne Barlow I love books, love reading - who doesn't? I also love to hear what other people think of books - we may agree or disagree, however I love the exchange of ideas. Tell me your thoughts, read our books and tell me what you think.

Creating characters - what I've learned as a fiction editor

August 15, 2022


The reader should always know what a character wants – otherwise the character is aimless.

Mission by Paul Forrester-O’Neill – John wants to find his father, the one his mother lied to.

The Jacobite Wife by Morag Edwards – Winifred wants her husband to stop running up debts.

The Takers and Keepers by Ivan Pope – Allen wants to know where the missing women go.

What motivates your characters?

It could be:

Money – greed, need, coercion, blackmail 

Ideology – powerful belief, usually politics or religion

Ego – envy, exploit others, entitlement, narcissism

What do your characters long for?


Characters need opposition – politics, weather, belief system, enemy

This can be about how others make us feel – underconfident, depressed, unhappy to be around…Or they might make us feel better about ourselves.


How does your character perceive life/ themselves/others?

We all believe that how we perceive life is true – what we feel accurately reflects reality. For instance, experiencing a storm for some is joy. To others it’s a terror.

In real life, whether it is a car accident, a mugging, onlookers report different things but they all believe they are telling the truth. Their perceptions often reveal their deeper thoughts – racism, sexism, opportunism.

Arguments are often about perceptions.

It is the same with our characters.

For example, two characters view another character differently – one sees her as uncaring and bitchy, another sees her as ambitious after a difficult start in life.

Two characters judge a scene differently – one sees serene silence, the other sees boredom.

Show us two opposing characters in a scene.

Take one of your characters:

Main conflict –

Three words for how they perceive the conflict –

Over-riding emotion –

How might you use this?

Let the characters describe each other. This means you don’t have to break a scene with a lengthy description.

Anna Karenina, Anna only gives one description of her husband. Until this point, she has been content in her marriage. After meeting Count Vronsky her perception of her husband changes. “Oh mercy, why do his ears look like that,” she thought, looking at his frigid and imposing figure, and especially the ears that struck her at the moment as propping up the brim of his round hat.

Bring characters longings together with their conflicts – it might lead to conflict in itself i.e. Someone wants love but isn’t willing to compromise their own needs for someone else’s needs.

Think of the terrific characters you have encountered in novels – we feel that we know them. Who are ones you have loved?

For me:

Wolf Hall trilogy by Hilary Mantel - Thomas Cromwell (he wants power, wealth, and the Bible translated into English)

The Country Girls trilogy by Edna O’Brien - Kathleen (she wants her mother back from the dead, her father to stop drinking, someone to love her).

Think about a youth who acts out or feels sad all the time, worrying his parents. Your job is to put clothes on that youth – why is he like this? Peculiarities, enjoyments, history of childhood. You may not use everything you have painted but when it comes to writing your novel at least you will know your character.

You need to know how your characters will react in situations - write their reactions into scenes so that your reader knows the character. Don’t simply tell us that John was angry – show us!

Instead of telling readers ‘Andrew was always looking for ways to make money’, describe him seeking an opportunity to make money during an unfortunate event.

Watch people:

The woman who yawns every time her friend talks – background story.

The man who steps gingerly – back problems, why?

The family with two young kids – daughter gets so much attention, son only gets attention when he misbehaves – what happens to them in the future?

Anchor your characters into the plot so that the reader feels they are entwinned. 

What I've learned as a fiction editor - more about plotting

August 8, 2022


The sub-plot is dependent on the main plot, although it may not seem so at the time – it might provide twists, shows us how the main character reacts in other settings, provides depth to the story.

They often involve minor characters.

They move the story along toward an apt ending and help the reader get to know the characters better.

Very few novels can survive on one plot alone. Only two come to mind:

My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal - a boy is put into foster care but miss...

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What I’ve learned as a fiction editor - and how this might help you write a novel

August 1, 2022

The truth is there is no simple answer, no easy template, no cookie cutter plan to follow. I wish there were. Instead, every novel charts its own course, heads in its own ship through mostly unknown waters. Often writers are surprised where they end up. ‘I thought I was writing about love,’ they say, after the romantic lead dies. ‘I wanted it to be a happy story.’ But where do you take happiness? Does happy ever after make a good story?
With this in mind I’ve decided to blog on what...

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Leonard Cohen, Hydra and Me

February 25, 2022

I’m not a fan of Leonard Cohen but I am a fan of the Greek island connected to his early fame. Hydra is where Leonard went as a young poet with little money but an earnest zeal to work on his art. Most of us know the rest of the story. Hydra’s calm gave him the peace to write Flowers for Hitler and Beautiful Losers, and it is where he met his most famous muse Marianne.

I probably know more than the average non-fan about Cohen. Primarily, because I edited The Water and the Wine by Tamar H...

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What Victorian women can teach us about life after menopause

February 9, 2022

What kind of life do we have after menopause? It’s a question that’s been much debated recently. I don’t want to go into hormonal issues, that varies so much from woman to woman. However, life after we reach our fifties oftentimes comes down to how we look at our future.

We can look backwards to all that’s passed and grow quite wistful because that time is over – our own childhood, parents, the teenage years, romance, marriage, kids. However, if we’re only going to look back at ...

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What do editors want from new writers?

February 2, 2022

We see a lot of manuscripts and sometimes, just sometimes, the opening paragraphs draw you in and immerse in the story almost immediately. When this happens, it is nothing but joy – just as it was in the ancient days of storytelling when the art began with ‘Let me tell you a story,’ or ‘Once upon a time’.

I do not know any editor who would disagree that an easy entry into a story is critical. First and foremost, we are readers, and it is the writers’ job to draw us in. If you do ...

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Listen and learn

January 24, 2022

I love audio books. However, I didn’t start out liking them. In the early days of listening to an 80,000+ plot, my mind would wander to other stories or events before eventually coming back to the novel and I would wonder what had happened while I’d been mentally absent.

However, a few years ago I found my eyes were often tired at the end of the work day, and I started listening to short Podcasts, then moved onto abridged novels on BBC Sounds. Lying on the sofa, eyes closed and listenin...

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Many of our authors are nice people

December 7, 2021

Many of our authors are lovely people. They care about their family and friends; they would help the elderly cross the street and many have a good sense of humour.

So why are their novels not on the best seller lists?

I ask because of the rise of celebrity authors. I’m not talking about memoirs, that’s a whole different genre and who better to write a life than the person who lived it. I’m talking fiction – and so many of them are at it – Dawn French, David Walliams, Graham Norton...

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Experience and imagination - do they need each other?

November 12, 2021

One of the most powerful novels I have read in the last ten years is The Road Home by Rose Tremain.  I’m not sure how many of you read this tale of an Eastern European immigrant newly arrived in London, but the novel won an Orange Booker Prize, and I have to say that I probably bored friends by pushing copies into their hands and telling them they would gain empathy with the immigrant experience.

So, it was a surprise today to hear Rose Tremain question her right to have written a novel th...

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Environmental novels

November 2, 2021

Cop26 brings the environment into tight focus, making me think of novels I’ve read that have highlighted the fragile links between humans and the natural world.

The first novelist to spring to my mind is Barbara Kingsolver. Her Flight Behavior is an engaging tale of migratory butterflies displaced from Mexico. That might not sound like the best plot but under Kingsolver’s ecologist hands the story blends mankind’s awe at the spectacle of millions of butterflies turning up in rural Tenn...

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