Honest Writing by Allison Symes

With the exception of one blog post for Chandler’s Ford Today and briefly here, I’m not planning to write about coronavirus. I am one of those writers and readers who, when trouble strikes, looks for comfort or light relief (or  both) so I turn to Terry Pratchett and P.G. Wodehouse to make me laugh. And when I just want to smile because it is irony I’m after I return to a certain Miss Austen.

Wherever your stories are set, readers should be able to understand what drives your characters. Pixabay

There is a place of course for writing about what is going on around us but I know it isn’t for me. If I have any mission with my writing, it is to try to entertain others. We all need somewhere to escape when life gets too much and for me that has always been in three worlds:  stories (reading and writing them), music (especially classical), and chocolate.

What all characters should have. Pixabay image.

I believe I have to be true to myself when I write. I won’t force myself to write anything that isn’t me. For one thing, I think others will see right through it. It is my voice I want to get across and I have to write to that.

For me then, honest writing is knowing what your strengths are and playing to them. It is seeking to engage with potential readers who are likely to be receptive to what you produce. With the writer’s hat on, honest writing is all about honest character portrayal. Cromwell famously wanted his portrait done “warts and all” and we must do that for our characters.

What reactions will your characters generate in your readers? Pixabay

Nobody is going to believe someone who is too good. Out of the four girls in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, I found saintly Beth too good to be true. When her illness started to affect how she reacted to those around her, I engaged with her character so much more. A tired Beth, a Beth who was struggling to cope - all of that was far more interesting.

A character who is only wicked will come across as a caricature. Your villains must have good reasons for being the way they are. Nobody says you or your readers have to agree with those reasons but a reader should be able to see where your people are coming from when it comes to their attitudes and resulting behaviour.

I admit to having a soft spot for the oddball character. Pixabay.

When my characters make me react the way I planned after a period of putting the tale aside for while so I can edit it with enough distance from first writing it, then I’m pleased. The time distance has not lessened the emotional impact made by my characters and I can be fairly confident most readers would react likewise.

What you want to avoid, no matter what you write, is the “who cares” phenomenon? Whether you write stories, novels, non-fiction or poetry, you need to care about what you write and your potential reader must care too. Your characters must engage and honestly drawn ones always do so.

Not much use of this - characters have to be honestly portrayed, even if they're not honest!  Pixabay.

Let’s hear it for those warts then!

Readers should be able to trust your character portrayal. Pixabay


  1. Great points, Allison. I think it takes a long time - well, it took ME a long time - to realise how important it was for characters to have depth in order to make them authentic and believable.

    1. Many thanks, Dawn and Fran. Great characters have to have depth to them. It is that readers connect with.

  2. I'm all for that, Allison! You really need to believe in the characters. That's why Miss Austen still sells shedloads today. We all know a Mrs Elton or a Mr Woodhouse (can you tell I just got round to watching the new "Emma"?)

    1. And I can think of a few odious Mr Collins types from Pride and Prejudice too!

  3. So true, Allison, thank you! When I read Little Women as a child, I really wanted to be Beth! I think I liked the drama and tragedy surrounding her death!


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