Why does my character Neil Cameron behave as he does?

It is really difficult to explain about my characters, where they come from, how I develop them, how I work out what makes them tick.

I can’t completely answer that, sometimes they come, like any real person might come into my life and I gradually learn about them as the story develops. I know more than my reader, but I don’t write down everything I know, I’m selective. I think about my story a lot, living it mentally, living it from different points of view. Sometimes I actually write in back stories and then get rid of them. However I never, and I can say never firmly, never think “I need a boyfriend for this woman, so what does he look like, what’s his name, his age, his character, his profession.” I can’t plan like that, I can’t design a character. Characters do evolve and change and develop; sometimes as the story progresses something is revealed about them, that they are nicer or nastier, or sillier or simpler, and I have to go back to rewrite what I’ve said about them in the past.

In ‘Night Vision’, my latest book, Neil Cameron is a very complex man and behaves in some very strange ways, particularly in private with his wife Beulah. He arrived in my head from a scene in the TV series ‘Boomtown’, where a district attorney, played by Neal McDonough is caught out in a lie; he struggles to maintain his composure, which he manages to do, but his eyes become very bright, and look very blue and it was that single expression which captured my imagination. I’ve only just realised that I’ve used almost the same name Neil/Neal!

Friends who have read the book comment on several scenes where my Neil Cameron acts out of character; he loves, adores his wife Beulah, and she him. They have a very strong physical romantic side to their relationship, even when other aspects of their marriage are not going well. However, when they move from Manchester to Easthope, where Neil grew up as a child, he becomes overwhelmed with desire for her in the most unconventional and strange places… and this is what my friends have commented on. They have usually understood exactly what’s happening… but I came across an article in the Daily Telegraph a couple of weeks ago which seems relevant.

Peter Wedderburn is a vet and he answers readers’ questions about their pets… such questions as:

  • Do cats have nightmares?
  • Do meerkats make good pets?
  • Can I give my rabbit a bath?
  • Do fish get bored?
  • The peril of foxes
  • Is it wrong to let my dog sit with me at dinner?
  • Where can I buy nappies for budgies?
  • Can gerbils predict the weather?
  • Why does my parrot make a bee-line for my cleavage
  • Can my dog really make stock market predictions?

Here is a question which, although talking about a dog, could also help explain Neil!:

Q: Our six-year-old neutered male labrador, Toby, takes every opportunity to mount or attempt to mount other dogs and occasionally people. It seems to be getting worse. Is there anything we can do? D & GJ, West Sussex

A: Mounting activity by dogs is embarrassing and can be tricky to stop.  People often presume that mounting is sexually based or due to a dog trying to dominate, but this is often not the case. Excitement and internal emotional conflict, not connected to sexual desire, are common reasons, with dogs using mounting as a displacement activity (“I’m not sure how to react, so I’ll mount them”).

“Excitement and internal emotional conflict, not connected to sexual desire,” that is exactly it with my character Neil!




  1. Rachel O'Regan

    I sat down to write elaborate back stories for my characters in the first stages of my novel – everything from their relationships with their parents to how they like their coffee, a la the snowflake method. But that was completely the wrong approach for me and seriously hampered my creativity. Now that I let my characters “breathe”, in a bizarre way they’ve taken a life of their own and even I don’t understand some of the things they do – they just do. I think it’s exciting to learn about them bit by bit like that, rather like how the reader does.


    1. Lois

      It’s great, isn’t it, Rachel! So exciting as a writer. In my novel about Rosa Czekov there is one character who was just supposed to be a walk-on part, a spare guest at dinner, but he stormed into the novel, took over and became a major player and dominant force!!
      … and you’re right about not always understanding them, but that is life really, isn’t it, much truer than when a character has a reason for every little thing.


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