Guest: Mary Burton

The Makings of a Great Character

Ask me about what makes a great character and I could go on for days and days. Fact, I can be a bit of a geek about the subject because by my way of thinking character is what makes a story. But so that I don’t keep you here all day, I thought I’d just share a few tips I always keep in mind when I’m creating a character.

There’s good and bad in every character. I’ve never enjoyed heroes and heroines that are all good. I’ve also never loved villains that are all bad. What makes them interesting is that they aren’t perfect. Charlotte in BEFORE SHE DIES isn’t perfect. Yes, she is beautiful, successful and stands by her friends, but she’d taken short cuts along the way to achieve her success. And my secret villain in BEFORE SHE DIES? I won’t give any clues away here but let me know what you think after you’ve read the book. Did he have a few good points?

Choices define character. I don’t even know my characters until I toss them into conflict and force them to make decisions. It’s the choices that they make—good or bad—that can say more about them than any description. Who’s going to rush into the burning building to save people? Who isn’t?

What does my character need? Don’t confuse this with what they want. They often can be very different. I might want a big bowl of chocolate ice cream but I need to go to the gym. Charlotte in BEFORE SHE DIES might want to keep homicide detective Daniel Rokov at arms distance but she needs him in her life not only to save her life but her chance at love.

What made them great could destroy them. My characters are survivors and they’ve often had to overcome some difficult backstories to make it to page one of the book. However, it is that very trait, which enabled them to survive, that could turn on them and destroy them. Charlotte in BEFORE SHE DIES is very, very independent. She can tackle any situation alone because there was no one in her past to help. However, it is that steely independence that will destroy her if she can’t let some of it go.

So who are your most favorite characters? And why do you remember them? I’d love to know!

Thanks for letting me visit!

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New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Mary Burton’s romantic suspense novels include the just published Before She Dies, her two earlier Alexandria, Virginia set novels Senseless and Merciless, and her thrillers Dying Scream, Dead Ringer and I’m Watching You. All have been published as paperback originals by Zebra Books.
A Virginia native whose family’s Richmond roots run as deep as the nation’s, Mary was born, raised in, and raised her own family there. She graduated from Hollins University and began a career in marketing before writing her first novel, a historical romance, published in 2000. Eleven more novels and three novellas for Harlequin followed. In total, she has written nineteen novels and four novellas.

She is a graduate of the Henrico County Citizens Police Academy and the Richmond FBI Citizen’s Academy, and has participated in Sisters in Crime’s Forensic University program and the Writers Police Academy in Jamestown, North Carolina, where she attended seminars on undercover work, autopsies, and the theories behind why people kill.

When not killing people—the total is upwards of a dozen now—or researching, Mary can be found pursuing her second love, baking, practicing Astanga yoga, enjoying her family, playing with her miniature dachshunds Buddy and Bella, or pursuing her Baking & Pastry Arts Certificate at the University of Richmond.

Mary Burton writes full time. Her next suspense novel is The Seventh Victim, which will be published in February 2013.

She can be found online at and

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