Birthing Characters

November 24, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Posted in Australia, History, Writing, Writing and Life | Leave a comment
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I used to wonder where authors got their inspiration for their characters. Now that I write my own stories, it is other people who ask me where my characters come from.

My recently published novel, Ben’s Challenge, is a case in point. My eldest son recently asked me to write to him (he doesn’t have a computer, and lives in Japan), to explain where Ben and the other characters in my novel, set in the 1950s, came from. He said they seemed very real to him.

Strangely, I really had to think deeply about that question. You see, when I began to write the story, Ben was already there; and the other characters appeared just when they were needed. It was as if they had existed in their own world all the time, and I had simply taken part of their life and written about it. Indeed, at times, they didn’t seem to want to share their story, and I had to wait until they allowed me to re-enter their world.

I must admit that some of the characters demonstrate certain similarities to people I know and have known, during the last 60+ years of my life. Others are an amalgam of traits and characteristics I have absorbed from the numerous people who have crossed my path over those years.

I think that Ben was inspired by a combination of my older brother and myself as youngsters. Peter was able to do the things that Ben did – like going into the bush with his dog and catching venomous snakes -but I, being a girl, could not. I always wanted to be a boy, so I could do them. Ben, of course, is himself, a person in his own right, not Peter and not me; well, perhaps just a bit of us.

Ben’s father, Karl, although not alive, is a potent character in the story. He has a little of my father and my grandfather in him. He has wisdom, love for his family, and a sense of both responsibility and fun. Ben loves his father as I love, admire and respect mine.

MV "Skaubryn" arrives in Sydney, bringing European migrants.

What about Joe, who becomes Ben’s best mate? Well, I had my childhood in 1950s country Australia, the era in which the novel is set. That decade saw a huge influx of migrants from Europe. They lived in the towns nearby, and I went to school with some of them. I have not based Joe on any individual at all, but on what I might reasonably expect of a young lad coming from war-ravaged Europe to the promise of a new life in another land.

The shopkeeper, the bully, the two policemen, and others in the story are representatives of the variety of personalities one might find in a country town during those post-war years. Each has his/her own history, genetics and experiences, which have helped to form them.

I am pleased that many readers have commented upon the reality of the characters, the setting and the story in Ben’s Challenge. That was always my aim; to bring to life a time that is so different in many ways from the present, but which was home to people who are no different in their hopes and fears, loves and hates, and in the kinds of challenges they face, to those living and growing up in the present.

Ben’s Challenge is available as both a print and e-book here.

© Linda Visman

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