Interesting, intriguing characters

Constructing Interesting, intriguing Characters with Melanie Milburne

One of the challenges for a romance writer is to construct characters that are interesting and unique in some way. It’s a challenge because there are a limited number of archetypal romance themes or plots, so over a long career as a romance author you can be revisiting those themes a number of times. Themes such as marriage of convenience, Cinderella, Blackmail, Revenge, Bad Boy Makes Good, Poor Little Rich Girl, Twins, Amnesia and Mistaken Identity, to name just a few.

It’s not easy to come up with the same but different. I am working on book number 42 and I can tell you the first twenty were easier to write than the last twenty! But I love constructing characters that will live on, not just in my mind, but in the minds of my readers. One of the nicest compliments I have ever received from a fan was how certain characters of mine had stayed with them for a long time.

Some of my author colleagues do extensive character interviews, right down to what their characters’ favorite color is and so on. My process is more organic in that I start with their names and imagine what they look like and as I write my way into the story idea the characters come to life. There is no right way to write. Each writer has their own process and it’s really hard to change. I’ve attended workshops where I’ve been told the ”rules” only to come home to freeze up creatively because it just doesn’t work that way for me.

I love Hollywood heroes, especially the ones with flaws. They are so much more interesting than just a pretty face. I often go back to Richard Gere's character Edward Lewis in Pretty Woman. His fear of heights was a way the writers made you feel instantly empathy for him even though he was a hard-nosed businessman. And he couldn't drive a Lotus!

In my latest Harlequin Mills and Boon Presents release, The Wedding Charade I worked really hard at constructing a heroine who is really unique. Jade Sommerville has no way of supporting herself now that her father has stopped her allowance. She is desperate for money and has no choice but to enter a marriage of convenience with her arch enemy, bad boy Nic Sabbatini. All very clichéd you might be thinking, but what if I told you that no one knows Jade is dyslexic? She can’t “just get a job”. Her life is one long struggle of trying to keep her disability a secret out of the shame she feels.

I would love to hear what characters in movies or books that have stayed with you for ages. What impressed or touched you about them?

Happy reading and viewing!

Melanie Milburne


  1. I agree - loved Richard Gere in Pretty Woman - very interesting character! I know there's a lot of talk today about Mr. Darcy, but I still love Rhett Butler - flawed, for sure, but in the end, he made a grand gesture for the good guys. Love that!

  2. I love Rhett Butler too, Kathy. And I loved Bogart in Casablanca as an anti hero.Very flawed but he too was very heroic in giving up what he wanted for Isla.

  3. Hi Melanie: Welcome to the Divas!

    Interesting post - I think you're right - it is hard to make the story fresh after so many books - but you're also right in that the characters make all the difference - i think at the end of the day - if the characters are believable - that's what counts. As for characters that have stayed with me - hmmm... many have i always come back to Bridget Jones ;D she's just one of the gals! ;D

  4. I loved Bridget Jones too! She was so believable and I think a lot of us saw parts of ourselves in her.
    But you're right about believable characters. I read a lot of manuscripts from aspiring writers and I am always reminding them to write real people not cookie cut-out characters.


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