Writing Challenge Day 18: Characters' pet peeves

Alison, peeved

Ha! We all have pet peeves and I’m pretty sure we pass these on in our writing however carefully we try to view the world from each individual character’s point of view. Our own values, thoughts and emotional responses will seep through, so I must admit that mine probably do, although the different characters will express this differently.

Here are a few excerpts from the Roma Nova novels to illustrate, in the first two, Carina’s ‘peeve’ and in the second two Aurelia’s. Each speaks in the first person.

Carina has an emotional sense of fair play even when it’s to her detriment to say so or when she can’t do anything about it. Although she considers she’s acting from the best motives, this can give her a slightly warped sense of what’s right and what’s wrong if she thinks ‘the rules’ and/or standard procedures are wrong.

Here, she’s disobeyed standing orders for a dare, one involving courage and determination, both qualities essential for a young Praetorian officer. But she got caught so she earned seven days in the cells as a punishment.

 The very worst was the boredom. Then the lack of exercise. I stomped up and down my cell every day for an hour morning and evening, inventing new curses for Conrad. He was my commanding officer. I knew he was correct, but I still thought it was unfair. My fists balled during my pacing for the first two days. I merely strode the next two. By day six, I had relaxed my shoulders and when, thank Juno, the door opened on the morning of the eighth day, I had accepted it. I wasn’t happy, but I’d accepted it.         (CARINA)

Carina, peeved

Several years later on, she’s much more responsible and senior, but still prone to react to her feelings. She and Conrad had an argument at home the evening before about a family matter, so she’s still a bit sensitive even in their work environment:

‘This brings me neatly to the second thing,’ Conrad said. ‘Effective tonight at 18.00 you’re relieved of your command of Operations.’


I stared at him. I couldn’t move. I ran his words through my head again. Why? Gods, it was unfair. Just because I’d criticised a useless but well-connected old lush. Was Conrad getting personal here? Was he resentful of how I’d reacted to Nicola’s letter? No, that was so out of character for him. I had no option but to accept it, but throwing me out of the job he knew I loved was unbelievably severe.

Then I spotted tiny creases around the edge of his mouth that had nothing to do with his tiredness.

‘You’re taking over Training and Personnel on promotion, with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Congratulations.’  



I swallowed. Hard.

‘You… you surprised me, that’s all.’

He burst out laughing. ‘You are such a liar.’

‘Yeah, well. That wasn’t nice.’

‘But fun.’ He smiled.

I didn’t think so, but he had a more robust sense of humour than I did; like most men. He went over to his coffee machine and brought me back a cupful to which he promptly added a slug of brandy.

‘For the shock, of course,’ he said and winked.                                   (SUCCESSIO)


Aurelia, however,  is a blood-and-bone Roman and much more self-disciplined, but she still feels things keenly. She’s impatient when people won’t make an effort and won’t let go when she thinks somebody’s covering something up or deceiving her.

‘What?’ Grilling the household was basic procedure. I turned to the prefect [chief police officer]. ‘What are your people playing at? Can’t they conduct a straightforward investigation?’

‘My officers know their job. They might not be as glamorous as the Praetorians, but they carry out solid procedure methodically. If they didn’t ask, they didn’t think it necessary.’ His eyes tightened and his face took on a red flush. ‘I don’t think there’s any more to be said or done. We’ll be in touch if there are any developments. I bid you good day.’ He turned on his heel and strutted out. Anger and surprise robbed me of the ability to reply.

Frankly, I didn’t expect to hear anything further and I didn’t. The vigiles were more interested in tidying up paperwork and submitting high clear-up statistics than actually solving cases.

But the prefect’s strange attitude from the beginning worried me. I managed to speak to the justice minister for five minutes after the council meeting the following week. She frowned when I told her about the prefect’s manner, but said she was sure they had investigated thoroughly. I asked if she would let me see the file – I had the required security clearance ­– but she refused on confidentiality and personnel grounds. Faced with the steely, direct look, I had nothing else I could say, but as she strode off to her ministry car, I was left with the feeling something wasn’t as it should be.    (AURELIA)

Aurelia, unamused

For Aurelia, her duty comes first, but she’s often conflicted. When the weak Imperatrix Severina sparks a constitutional crisis, Aurelia has had enough and will not compromise the safety of Roma Nova.

‘If we are citing legalities,’ I said, ‘then you may well remember that as head of the Twelve Families, not only am I perfectly entitled to intervene where there is a conflict, it is my duty.’ I tried, I sincerely tried, to keep the sarcasm out of my voice. ‘Or perhaps you are not familiar with one of the most basic of our founding laws?’

I kept my eyes on Severina’s face. She flinched, strode towards me and raised her hand.

‘I wouldn’t, Severina,’ I said. ‘Really, I wouldn’t.’ I stood my ground, unmoving, and stared at her. My heart beat faster. She was so unpredictable, she might do it. I braced myself for the blow.

Her skin reddened. The next instant, her lower lip trembled. She dropped her hand. Fabianus moved to her side, darted an angry glance at me. Severina’s face crumpled. She burst into tears and allowed Fabianus to draw her down onto the sofa. He put his arm round her and hugged her to him.

I stayed where I was. For once, I wasn’t going to give in to her emotional blackmail. She used this learned helplessness to muddle through awkward situations, getting others to solve problems and sort out messes for her. If only she’d been more diligent, learned at least the rudiments of governing from shadowing her mother. If only she could see beyond the surface of things. If only she had a gram of political common sense. Normally, I’d go to her, comfort her, apologise and say I’d take care of everything. Well, she’d crossed the line in the sand. No more.                         (INSURRECTIO)


Impatience, strong emotion reaction and frustration are part of what makes us human; giving characters pet peeves makes them vibrant and relatable. And it’s fun to write them when they are less than wonderfully behaved!

Writing challenges so far:

Days 16 & 17: Favourite outfits (combined)
Day 15: The many-hatted author
Day 14: Show your workplace
Day 13: A funny family story. Or not
Day 12: Early bird or night owl?
Day 11: Favourite writing snacks/chocolate porn
Day 10: Post an old picture of yourself
Day 9: Post 5 random facts about you
Day 8: What’s your writing process?
Day 7: Introduce your ‘author friend’
Day 6: How the writing all began
Day 5: What inspired the book I’m working on
Day 4: The setting for the new Roma Nova book
Day 3: Introducing the main characters Julia and Apulius
Day 2: Introduce your work in progress
Day 1: Starting with revealing information

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. NEXUS, an Aurelia Mitela novella, is now out.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Download ‘Welcome to Roma Nova’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

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