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Characters in Neverwhere

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Photo by Andrew Seaman on Unsplash

Like story plot, creating characters is a topic discussed in writing blogs ad nauseam. I'm definitely not an expert on characters, but I find that I "get" characters more easily than I "get" plot. For me, the endless lists of "what is your character's favourite album from 1996?" aren't helpful. I know my characters. I have conversations with them in my head all the time, as I do with other people in my life. Maybe it's the years of studying psychology, or maybe it's the reason I studied psychology in the first place. In any case, for me, what I need to know about a character are a few basic things. In my template, this is what I have for each major character:


Goals at the beginning



Quirks/Rituals/Special effects

Now, don't get me wrong. Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere is full of fun characters. My favourite has to be Old Bailey, with his dad jokes and his birds. Gaiman takes character quirks to a whole other level, and it's probably the reason I enjoy his books so much. But today, I want to talk about the two main characters: Door and Richard.

Beware of spoilers

As before, here's the now-mandatory cute puppy picture to make sure you don't accidentally read spoilers.

Interestingly, the story is told from Richard's point of view, he's the main character (MC), but he's not the protagonist. A protagonist is a character who drives the plot, and Richard doesn't drive any of the plot's turning points, except in a couple of notable moments. He only begins to have any agency after he survives The Ordeal and gets the key, and even then, he's mostly being dragged and ordered about by other characters. He has exactly three points of taking action:

1. He follows Door once he realises he has no other choice;

2. He survives The Ordeal by not jumping in front of the train and then stepping onto it; and

3. He lifts Hunter's spear and sticks it into The Beast.

That's it. Throughout the rest of the book, he's being dragged, compelled, and steered by others. Even after he realises he doesn't belong in London Above anymore, it takes the Marquis showing up and opening the door for him to return. I think Gaiman was basically pulling a creative writing course trick here, deliberately separating the MC from the plot.

So, Richard's character:

Arc - He finds his “inner hero” - adventures and courage and ability to perform heroic acts (e.g., the ordeal, killing the beast).

Goals at the beginning - To go back to his old life.

Change - from ordinary to hero - the turning point is surviving the ordeal.

Likability - high. He’s “everyman”.

Quirks/Rituals/Special effects - inner diary, low self-esteem/confidence, a bit of a Nebekh (for those of you unfamiliar with this word, it means something like a loveable and useless dork). That last one is actually his main characteristic, as discussed above.

There's a hilarious point in the story when one of the characters says, "And he can give you brains... and me a heart." The comparison to the Wizard of Oz is explicit. Richard is technically Dorothy, searching for a way to get home, but he's also the lion, I guess, as he becomes more confident and courageous. Islington is the Wizard in this analogy, in the sense that he sends Door and Richard on their quest, and also, he isn't who they think he is.

Door, on the other hand, is essentially Toto. She's the one driving the plot, the outer conflict. She's looking for the person who ordered Mr Croup and Mr Vandermar to kill her family. That person turns out to be Islington, who had done it so he could send Door to get the key and then open a door back to heaven for him. So the plot revolves entirely around her. Her choices drive the entire book.

Arc - Hardly any inner change. She’s in charge of the “outer conflict”.

Goals at the beginning - Find out who killed her family and avenge them.

Change - From daughter to the head of the “family”, she gains confidence and stature.

Likability - high. Something between a lost lamb and a super-powerful witch.

Quirks/Rituals/Special effects - Leather coat as armour; can open doors and objects--all doors want to open, and she convinces them to.


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