Learners from across the globe share their favourite writers and fictional characters for World Book Day 2018

Jane Austen voted most popular author and Harry Potter named most popular character

FutureLearn surveyed almost 900 learners to find out about the top characters people wished they’d created, and to discover which writers and novelists they love hearing from most.

London, 1st March, 2018: FutureLearn, the global social learning platform, surveyed 884 learners who took The Open University’s online course ‘Start Writing Fiction’ to find out about their favourite novelists and short story writers. From Virginia Woolf to Zadie Smith and Edgar Allen Poe to Franz Kafka, learners’ preferences varied across generations, genres and nationalities.

Author of ‘Pride and Prejudice’, ‘Sense and Sensibility’ and ‘Emma’, Jane Austen, was placed as the most popular fiction writer, followed by Stephen King, author of ‘The Shining’, ‘Carrie’ and other thrillers. Terry Pratchett, author of the popular Discworld series was viewed as third most popular writer. Margaret Atwood, famous for ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ and ‘Alias Grace’ was also in the top five in fourth place, with JK Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series and more recently her Cormoran Strike series, in fifth place.

Respondents were also asked which character they would love to have created. Harry Potter was voted the most sought after character, followed by the fictional private detective Sherlock Holmes. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice was voted in third place by respondents, followed by Ian Rankin’s John Rebus. Finally, in joint fifth place was Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Margaret Mitchell’s protagonist, Scarlett O’Hara in ‘Gone with the Wind’.

Derek Neale, award-winning author and lead educator on the ‘Start Writing Fiction’ course, said: “There are many fictional characters who make their mark and who we connect with personally- writers sometimes even use themselves as a basis for their main character. Austen’s character Elizabeth Bennet and Rowling’s Harry Potter are excellent examples of characters who have a lasting impact, regardless of their era; they’ve even been brought to live on stage, television and film, bringing another dimension to the way we connect with them.”

“Creating a character is a fundamental part of the writing process for any writer; if you start by building a strong sense of your main character, then add a dilemma, challenge or conflict, your plot will automatically be generated from this process of character creation. If you were to start the other way around, the character can often be less convincing, so it’s no wonder many fictional characters have a lasting effect on us.

Join The Open University’s free online course ‘Start Writing Fiction’ to get more writing tips and guidance from Derek and other renowned writers.

Notes to editors


The survey was conducted at the end of February 2018 and returned 884 responses in total. As the survey related to topics discussed within the FutureLearn course ‘Start Writing Fiction’, only those who had taken part in the course previously (either once or on multiple course runs) were surveyed. Not all 884 people answered each question. You can see how many people answered each question below. Each question below was an open-ended question. For the most part, respondents chose one author or character. Where they chose two or more, we counted all of their responses:

  • Who is your favourite novelist or short story writer? (n = 757)

Jane Austen (n=42)

Stephen King (n=26)

Terry Pratchett (n=23)

Margaret Atwood (n=22)

JK Rowling (n=21)

  • Which character would you love to have created? (n=714)

Harry Potter (n=39)

Sherlock Holmes (n=22)

Elizabeth Bennet (n=20)

Rebus (n=8)

Jane Eyre/Scarlett O’Hara (n=7)

About FutureLearn

Founded by The Open University in 2012, FutureLearn is a leading social learning platform, enabling online learning through conversation. With over 7 million people from over 200 countries across the globe – a community that is continuously growing – it offers free and paid for online courses from world-leading UK and international universities, as well as organisations such as Accenture, the British Council and Cancer Research UK. FutureLearn’s course portfolio covers a wealth of areas to promote lifelong learning for a range of applications including general interest, an introduction to university studies, continuing professional development and fully online postgraduate degrees.