characters

creating character goblins

A creature – part bird, part angel – trapped inside a crumbling garage.  A ten-year-old boy with a deformed face starting fifth grade.  A half-feral girl who rides ice-bears and flies with witch-clans.  A creature of darkness who feeds on unicorn blood.  A boy who can recognize every prime number up to 7,507 but can’t ride the bus alone.  Skellig. Auggie Pullman. Lyra Belacqua. Voldemort. Christopher Boone. Characters no reader will forget.

 

Writers don’t just know the age and hair colour of their characters.  They know everything about them: siblings, parents, hobbies, fears, memories…  You don’t have to tell the reader all of these things but you have to know them – because characters only become real to the reader if the author believes in them through and through.

How to create main characters

Main characters

old

Once a character starts to take shape in your mind, create a huge spider diagram on a piece of paper and let all the ideas out – however random they might seem now:

Appearance:  old, wrinkled face like a scrunched up ball of newspaper

Voice:              tired, like the rustle of dead leaves

Movement:     drags feet, limps

Fears:              open spaces

Habits:            blinks when nervous

Family:            lives alone

 

And then to decide the most important thing of all.  What is your character’s deal?  Why is his or her story worth telling?  Jot down some more ideas in your notepad – the more original, the better:

 

  • a boy who hasn’t spoken a word since the day his Dad died. Then something or someone makes him speak
  • a girl who refuses to leave the house because of the birthmark that scars her face. And then she meets someone who changes all of that
  • an old lady with a dark and terrible secret
  • a boy who discovers he has a super power but it’s not cool at all; it’s really embarrassing
  • a girl who won’t stop running until she reaches the end of the rainbow

How to create secondary characters

Secondary characters

luna final

These are the characters who appear a lot of the time but don’t have quite as much importance as your main characters.  Some examples of secondary characters from Harry Potter are: Ginny Weasley, Luna Lovegood, Neville Longbottom, Dudley…  You don’t need to know them inside out, like you do with your main characters, but you do need to give them some memorable descriptions so that they stick in our minds.  Take Luna Lovegood’s description for example: “She had straggly, waist-length, dirty blonde hair, very pale eyebrows, and protuberant eyes that gave her a permanently surprised look. Harry knew at once why Neville had chosen to pass this compartment by. The girl gave off an aura of distinct dottiness. Perhaps it was the fact that she had stuck her wand behind her left ear for safekeeping, or that she had chosen to wear a necklace of Butterbeer caps, or that she was reading a magazine upside down.

 

The best characters from children’s books

Memorable Characters

Have a look at the characters below and see if you can learn some tricks from The Greats to create your own character.  If you want some feedback from moontrug on your invented character, send it in an email to: abi@moontrug.com and if you think moontrug has missed one of your favourite characters off their list then let us know in the comment boxes at the bottom of the page and we’ll whack it up on the site.

 

Quirky Heroine

Mina from My Name is Mina by David Almond

My Name is Mina final‘My name is Mina and I love the night.  Anything seems possible at night when the rest of the world has gone to sleep.  It’s dark and silent in the house but if I listen close, I hear the beat beat beat of my heart.  I hear the creak and crack of the house.  I hear my mum breathing gently in her sleep in the room next door.  I slip out of bed and sit at the table by the window.  I tug the curtain open.  There’s a full moon in the middle of the sky.  It bathes the world in its silvery light.  It shines on Falconer Road and on the houses and the streets beyond, and on the city roofs and spires and on the distant mountains and moors.  It shines into the room and on to me.  Some say that you should turn your face from the light of the moon.  They say it makes you mad.  I turn my face towards it and I laugh.  Make me mad, I whisper.  Go on, make Mina mad.’

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Quirky Hero

Christopher Boone from Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

curious‘My name is Christopher John Francis Boone.  I know all the countries in the world and their capital cities and every prime number up to 7, 507.  Eight years ago, when I first met Siobhan, she showed me this picture: L and I knew that it meant ‘sad’, which is what I felt when I found the dead dog.  Then she showed me this picture: J and I knew that it meant ‘happy, like when I’m reading about the Apollo space missions, or when I am still awake at three or four in the morning and I can walk up and down the street and pretend that I am the only person in the whole world.’
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Bravest Boy

Sam from Ways To Live Forever by Sally Nicholls

waysThis is my book, started 17th January, finished 12th April.  It is a collection of lists, stories, pictures, questions and facts.  It is also my story. List No.1: FIVE FACTS ABOUT ME: 1. My name is Sam. 2. I am eleven years old.  3. I collect stories and fantastic facts.  4. I have leukaemia.  5. By the time you read this, I will probably be dead.’
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A Human Wonder

Auggie Pullman from Wonder by R J Palacio

wonder‘I know I’m not an ordinary ten-year-old kid.  I mean, sure, I do ordinary things.  I eat ice cream.  I ride my bike.  I play ball.  I have an Xbox.  Stuff like that makes me ordinary.  Inside.  But I know ordinary kinds don’t make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds.  I know ordinary kids don’t get scared wherever they go.  If I found a magic lamp and I could have one wish, I would wish that I had a normal face that no one ever noticed at all.  I would wish that I could walk down the street without people seeing me and then doing that look-away thing.  Here’s what I think: the only reason I’m not ordinary is that no one else sees me that way.’
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Smelliest Man Alive

Mr Stink from Mr Stink by David Walliams

stink done‘Mr Stink stank. He also stunk.  And if it is correct English to say he stinked, the he stinked as well.  He was the stinkiest stinky stinker who ever lived.  A stink is the worst type of smell.  A stink is worse than a stench.  And a stench is worse than a pong.  And a pong is worse than a whiff.  And a whiff can be enough to make your nose wrinkle.  It wasn’t Mr Stink’s fault that he stank.  He was a tramp, after all.  He didn’t have a home and so he never had the opportunity to have a proper wash like you and me.  After a while the smell just got worse and worse.’
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Headstrong Heroine

Lyra Belacqua from Northern Lights by Phillip Pullman

lights‘She was a coarse and greedy little savage, for the most part. But she always had a dim sense that it wasn’t her whole world; that part of her also belonged in the grandeur of Jordan College; and that somewhere in her life there was a connection with the high world of politics represented by Lord Asriel. All she did with that knowledge was to give herself airs and lord it over the other urchins. It had never occurred to her to find out more.’  And then later, Ma Costa, a Gyptian mother tells Lyra: ‘What you’re most like is marsh fire, that’s the place you have in the gyptian scheme. You got witch oil in your soul. Deceptive, that’s what you are child.’
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Dumpsite Boy

Raphael Fernandez from Trash by Andy Mulligan

trash done‘My name is Raphael Fernandez and I am a dumpsite boy.  People say to me, ‘I guess you just never know what you’ll find, sifting through rubbish!  Today could be your lucky day.’  I say to them, ‘Friend, I think I know what I find.’  And I know what everyone finds, because I know what we’ve been finding for all the years I’ve been working, which is eleven years.  It’s the one word: stuppa, which means – and I’m sorry if I offend – it’s our word for human muck.  I don’t want to upset anyone, that’s not my business here.  But there’s a lot of things hard to come by in our sweet city, and one of the things too many people don’t have is toilets and running water.  So when they have to go, they do it where they can.  Most of those people live in boxes, and the boxes are stacked up tall and high.  So, when you use the toilet, you do it on a piece of paper, and you wrap it up and put it in the trash.  The trash bags come together.  All over the city, trash bags get loaded onto carts, and from carts onto trucks or even trains – you’d be amazed at how much trash this city makes.  Piles and piles of it, and it all ends up here with us.  The trucks and trains never stop, and nor do we.  Crawl and crawl, and sort and sort.’
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Unusual Creature

Skellig from Skellig by David Almond

skellig d‘I found him in the garage on a Sunday afternoon.  It was the day we moved into Falconer Road.  The winter was ending.  Mum had said we’d be moving just in time for the spring.  Nobody else was there.  Just me.  The others were inside the house with Doctor Death, worrying about the baby.  He was lying there in the darkness behind the tea chests, in the dust and dirt.  It was as if he’d been there forever.  He was filthy and pale and dried out and I thought he was dead.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  I’d soon begin to see the truth about him, that there’d never been another creature like him in the world… Dead bluebottles were scattered on his hair and shoulders… His voice squeaked like he hadn’t used it in years… I tried not to breathe, not to smell him.  I reached across his back and felt something beneath his other shoulder as well.  Like thin arms, folded up.  Springy and flexible.’
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Sinister Fairy

The Red Fairy in Reckless by Cornelia Funke

reckless done‘She hadn’t changed.  Of course not.  Fairies didn’t age.  Her skin was as pale as the lilies on the lake, and her hair was as dark as the night she so loved.  At night her eyes turned black, though by day they were as blue as the sky or as green as the water of the lake, mirroring the leaves of the willows.  Too beautiful.  Too beautiful for human eyes.  Untouched by time and the decay it wrought.  But in the end a man wants to sense the same mortality that dwells in his own flesh also in the skin he caresses…  The moths immediately swarmed at his face as he took a step towards her… The wings of her moths tinged the night air red… She seemed to be made of the shadows that surrounded her, of the moonlight and the night’s dew on the leaves.  He’d been so happy when this was all he knew.  But there was so much more.’
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Frightening Monster

The monster in A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

monster done‘As Conor watched, the uppermost branches of the tree gathered themselves into a great nad terrible face, shimmering into a mouth and nose and even eyes, peering back at him.  Other branches twisted around one another, always creaking, always groaning, until they formed two long arms and a second leg to set down beside the main trunk.  The rest of the tree gathered itself into a spine and then a torso, the thin, needle-like leaves weaving together to make a green, furry skin that moved and breathed as if there were muscles and lungs underneath….  And then the monster spoke. Conor O’Malley, it said, a huge gust of warm, compost-smelling breath rushing through Connor’s window, blowing his hair back.  Its voice rumbled low and loud, with a vibration so deep Conor could feel it in his chest.’
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Evil Teacher

Miss Trunchbull from Matilda by Roald Dahl

ss_matilda-16l9d09 done‘She was above all a most formidable female. She had once been a famous  athlete, and even now the muscles were still clearly in evidence. You could see them in the bull-neck, in the big shoulders, in the thick arms, in the sinewy wrists and in the powerful legs. Looking at her, you got the feeling that this was someone who could bend iron bars and tear telephone directories in half. Her face, I’m afraid, was neither a thing of beauty nor a joy for ever. She had an obstinate chin, a cruel mouth and small arrogant eyes. And as for her clothes…they were, to say the least, extremely odd. She always had on a brown cotton smock which was pinched in around the waist with a wide leather belt. This belt was fastened in front with an enormous silver buckle. The massive thighs which emerged from out of the smock were encased in a pair of extraordinary breeches, bottle-green in colour and made of coarse twill. These breeches reached to just below the knees and from there on down she sported green stockings with turn-up tops, which displayed her calf-muscles to perfection. On her feet she wore flat-heeled brown brogues with leather flaps. She looked, in short, more like a rather eccentric and bloodthirsty follower of the stag-hounds than the headmistress of a nice school for children.’
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Bad Guy

Voldemort from the Harry Potter series by J K Rowling

hp done

‘Where there should have been a back to Quirrell’s head, there was a face, the most terrible face Harry had ever seen.  It was chalk-white with glaring red eyes and slits for nostrils, like a snake.’
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Terrifying Creature

The Tailor from Reckless by Cornelia Funke

reckless done

‘The Tailor had earned his name by tailoring his clothes from human skin.  Snip-snap, clip-clip.  The trees opened into a clearing.  Fox gave Jacob a warning look as a murder of crows fluttered up from the branches of an oak.  The snip-snap grew so loud that it drowned out their squawks, and under an oak the beam of Jacob’s torch found the outline of a man.  The Tailor did not like the probing finger of light.  He uttered an angry grunt and swatted at it as if it were an annoying bug.  But Jacob let the light explore further, over the bearded, dirt-caked face, the gruesome clothes, which at first sight looked like poorly tanned leather, and on to the gross hands with which the Tailor plied his bloody trade.  The fingers on his left hand ended in broad blades, each as long as a dagger.  The blades on the right were just as long and lethal, though these were slender and pointed, like giant sewing needles.  Both hands were missing a finger – obviously other victims had tried to defend their skins – though the Tailor fif not seem to miss them much.  He let his murderous fingernails slice through the air as if he were cutting a pattern from the shadows of the trees, taking measurements for the clothes he would soon fashion from Jacob’s skin.’
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Youngest Billionaire

Joe Spud from Billionaire Boy by David Walliams

bb done‘Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have a million pounds?  Or a billion?  How about a trillion?  Or even a gazillion?  Meet Joe Spud.  Joe didn’t have to imagine what it would be like to have loads and loads and loads of money.  He was only twelve, but he was ridiculously, preposterously rich.  Joe had everything he could ever want.  100-inch plasma widescreen flat-screen high-definition TV in every room in the house.  500 pairs of Nike trainers.  A grand-prix race track in the back garden.  A robot dog from Japan.  A golf buggy with the number plate SPUD 2 to drive around the grounds of his house.  A waterslide which went from his bedroom into an indoor Olympic-sized swimming pool.  Every computer game in the world.  3-D IMAX cinema in the basement.  A crocodile.  24-hour personal masseuse.  Underground 10-lane bowling alley.  Snooke table.  Popcorn dispenser.  Skateboard park.  Another crocodile.  £100,000 a week pocket money.  A rollercoaster in the back garden.  A professional recording studio in the attic.  Personalised football coaching from the England team.  A real-life shark in a tank… The problem was Joe didn’t have any friends.  Not one.’
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Cheekiest Sprite

Bartimaeus in the Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud

amulet done‘Believe me, I know all about bottle acoustics.  I spent much of the sixth century in an old sesame oil jar, corked with wax, bobbing about in the Red Sea.  No one heard my hollers.  In the end an old fisherman set me free, by which time I was desperate enough to grant him several wishes.  I erupted in the form of a smoking giant, did a few lightning bolts, and bent to ask him his desire.  Poor old boy had dropped dead of a heart attack.  There should be a moral there, but for the life of me I can’t see one…  According to some, heroic deaths are admirable things.  I’ve never been convinced by this argument, mainly because, no matter how cool, stylish, composed, unflappable, manly, or defiant you are, at the end of the day you’re also dead.  Which is a little too permanent for my liking… One magician demanded I show him an image of the love of his life.  I rustled up a mirror.’
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Feisty Fairy

Holly Short from Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

art fowl‘Holly Short was lying in bed having a silent fume.  Nothing unusual about this.  Leprechauns in general were not known for their geniality.  But Holly was in an exceptionally bad mood, even for a fairy.  Technically she was an elf, fairy being a general term.  She was a leprechaun too, but that was just a job.  Perhaps a description would be more helpful than a lecture on fairy genealogy.  Holly Short had nut-brown skin, cropped auburn hair and hazel eyes.  Her nose had a hook and her mouth was plimp and cherubic, which was appropriate considering that Cupid was her great-grandfather.  Her mother was a European elf with a fiery temper and a willowy figure.  Holly, too, had a slim frame, with long tapered fingers perfect for wrapping around a buzz baton.  Her ears, of course, were pointed.  At exactly one metre in height, Holly was only a centimetre below the fairy average, but even one centimetre can made an awful lot of difference when you don’t have many to spare.’
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Witch-like Woman

Miss Havisham from Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

great ex pec‘She was dressed in rich materials–satins, and lace and silks — all of white. Her shoes were white. And she had a long white veil dependent from her hair, and she had bridal flowers in her hair, but her hair was white. Some bright jewels sparkled on her neck and on her hands, and some other jewels lay sparkling on the table. Dresses, less splendid than the dress she wore, and half-packed trunks, were scattered about. She had not quite finished dressing, for she had but one shoe on — the other was on the table near her hand — her veil was but half arranged, her watch and chain were not put on, and some lace for her bosom lay with those trinkets, and with her handkerchief, and gloves, and some flowers, and a Prayer-book, all confusedly heaped about the looking-glass. It was not in the first few moments that I saw all these things, though I saw more of them in the first moments than might be supposed. But, I saw that everything within my view which ought to be white, had been white long ago, and had lost its lustre, and was faded and yellow. I saw that the bride within the bridal dress had withered like the dress, and like the flowers, and had no brightness left but the brightness of her sunken eyes. I saw that the dress had been put upon the rounded figure of a young woman, and that the figure upon which it now hung loose, had shrunk to skin and bone. Once I had been taken to see some ghastly waxwork at the Fair, representing I know not what impossible personage lying in state. Once, I had been taken to one of our old marsh churches to see a skeleton in the ashes of a rich dress, that had been dug out of a vault under the church pavement. Now, waxwork and skeleton seemed to have dark eyes that moved and looked at me.’
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Brilliant Wizard

Gandalf in The Fellowship of the Ring by J R R Tolkein

lotr‘Gandalf was shorter in stature than the other two; but his long white hair, his sweeping silver beard, and his broad shoulders, made him look like some wise king of ancient legend. In his aged face under great snowy brows his eyes were set like coals that could suddenly burst into fire.’
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Over-sized Human

Hagrid in the Harry Potter series by J K Rowling

hp‘The door was hit with such force that it swung clean off its hinges and with a deafening crash landed flat on the floor.  A giant of a man was standing in the doorway.  His face was almost completely hidden by a long, shaggy mane of hair and a wild, tangled beard, but you could make out his eyes, glinting like black beetles under all the hair.  The giant squeezed his way into the hut, stooping so that his head just brushed the ceiling.  He bent down, picked up the door and fitted it easily back into its frame.  The noise of the storm outside dropped a little.  He turned to look at them all… The giant sat back down on the sofa, which sagged under his weight, and began taking all sorts of things out of the pockets of his coat: a copper kettle, a squashy package of sausages, a poker, a teapot, several chipped mugs and a bottle of some amber liquid which he took a swing from before starting to make tea.  Soon the hut was full of the sound and smell of sizzling sausage.  Nobody said a thing while the giant was working, but as soon as he slid the first six fat, juicy burnt sausages from the poker, Dudley fidgeted a little.  Uncle Vernon turned sharply, ‘Don’t touch anything he gives you, Dudley.’ The giant chucked darkly.’
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Grossest Man Alive

Mr Twit from The Twits by Roald Dahl

twitteroWhat a lot of hairy-faced men there are around nowadays.  When a man grows hair all over his face it is impossible to tell what he really looks like.  Perhaps that’s why he does it.  He’d rather you didn’t know…  Mr Twit was one of these very hairy-faced men.  The whole of his face except for his forehead, his eyes and his nose was covered with thick hair.  The stuff even sprouted in revolting tufts out of his nostrils and ear-holes.  Mr Twit felt that this hairiness made him look terrifically wise and grand.  But in truth he was neither of these things.  And now at the age of sixty, he was a bigger twit than ever.  The hair on Mr Twit’s face didn’t grow smooth and matter as it does on most hairy-faced men.  It grew in spikes that stuck out straight like the bristles of a nailbrush.  And how often did Mr Twit was this bristly nailbrushy face of his?  The answer is NEVER, not even on Sundays.  He hadn’t washed for year.  Mr Twit didn’t even bother to open his mouth when he ate.  As a result (and because he never washed) there were always hundreds of bits of old breakfast and lunches and suppers sticking to the hairs around his face… But if you looked closely (not that you’d ever want to) you would see tiny specks of dried-up scrambled eggs stuck to the hairs, and spinach and tomato ketchup and fish fingers and minced chicken livers and all the other disgusting things Mr Twit liked to eat.’
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Grumpiest Creature

Puddleglum from The Silver Chair by C S Lewis

chair‘And then they both saw him, sitting with his back to them, fishing, about fifty yards away.  He had been hard to see because he was nearly the same colour as the marsh and because he sat so still… As they drew nearer, the figure turned its head and showed them a long thin face with rather sunken cheeks, a tightly shut mouth, a sharp nose, and no beard.  He was wearing a high, pointed hat like a steeple, with an enormously wide flat brim.  The hair, if it could be called hair, which hung over his large ears was greeny-grey, and each lock was flat rather than round, so that they were like tiny reeds.  His expression was solemn, his complexion muddy, and you could see at once that he took a serious view of life… They saw now that he had very long legs and arms, so that although his body was not much bigger than a dwarf’s, he would be taller than most men when he stood up.  The fingers of his hands were webbed like a frog’s, and so were his bare feet which dangled in the muddy water.’
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Street Urchin

Mosca Mye from Fly By Night by Frances Hardinge

Fly-by-Night done‘Mosca’s eyes had earned her countless beatings, and years of suspicion.  For one thing, they had a way of looking venomous even when she held her pointed tongue.  For another thing, her eyes wielded a power that was beyond everyone else in Chough except the magistrate.  She could read.  Everybody knew that books were dangerous.  Read the wrong book, it was said, and the words crawled around your brain on black legs and drove you mad, wicked mad.  It did not help that she was daughter of Quillam Mye, who had come to Chough from Mandelion amid rumours of banishment, bringing city thoughts crackling with cleverness and dozens of dangerous books.  Mosca might as well have been the local witch in miniature.’
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Hunchback Beauty

Philip Rhayader from The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico

The Snow Goose‘His body was warped, but his heart was filled with love for wild and hunted things. He was ugly to look upon, but he created great beauty. It is about him, and a child who came to know him and see beyond the grotesque form that housed him to what lay within, that this story is told… He lived and worked there alone the year round. He was a painter of birds and of nature, who, for reasons, had withdrawn from all human society. Some of the reasons were apparent on his fortnightly visits to the little village of Chelmbury for supplies, where the natives looked askance at his mis-shapen body and dark visage. For he was a hunchback and his left arm was crippled, thin and bent at the wrist, like the claw of a bird. They soon became used to his queer figure, small but powerful, the massive, dark, bearded head set just slightly below the mysterious mound on his back, the glowing eyes and the clawed hand, and marked him off as ‘that queer painter chap that Jives down to lighthouse.’ Physical deformity often breeds hatred of humanity in men. Rhayader did not hate; he loved very greatly, man, the animal kingdom, and all nature.’

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‘Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read’ (Groucho Marx, comedian, film and television star)

One thought on “characters

  1. Goose

    I LOVED Auggie in Wonder – he is such a kind, wonderful character and the reader really falls in love with him. It shows that we all have weaknesses but inner strength is so important. I also went to see the play ‘Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time’ recently and loved Christopher for similar reasons. Its so hard to write about others who are experienced different lifestyles and upbringings yet really ‘get’ their character.

    Reply

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