Thursday, October 05, 2017

Slipping Personal Information Into My Characters ( IWSG Post)

When I was a young writer (in my early 20s), I used to worry about whether my characters sounded authentic or not. I felt so gauche and young; like readers would be able to tell I hadn't gone anywhere or done anything to write home about. So how could I make sure that what my characters experienced was plausible or not? And that was back when the advice to "write what you know" was popular.

I didn't know anything! I was very young for my age and my parents were overprotective, which means that the opportunity to be out there making life mistakes was within the realms of fiction for me. I think this is where I admit that Pappa accompanied me to my job interview for my first job in Johannesburg. LOL! I know that sounds ridiculous, because I was in my early twenties. Old enough not to need a babysitter, yes?

Despite the fact that I had spent a year in Alice in the Eastern Cape and had been working in Mmabatho for a couple of years, Mma was very unimpressed by the fact that I was moving to the big city and she wanted to make sure that I was protected while I took care of business. So Pappa sat in the reception area of my potential employer's offices, waiting for me while I was being interviewed in the boardroom. Urgh! That made an impression, I tell you! Thankfully, they didn't hold the fact that I was still considered a baby against me and hired me anyway.

But I digress. The question that is being asked of the participants of the Insecure Writer's Support Group is, have you ever slipped any of your personal information into your characters either by accident or on purpose? And my answer to that  is YES. I have probably done it by accident, by I also do it on purpose, because as I have said, as I grow up and learn, the characters that I create also grow and learn with me.

Not all the characters have characteristics similar to what I have and they certainly don't always learn what I learnt. But I find that my personal information - be it who I am, where I live and what I do can be a great reservoir of information that I can use in my storytelling.

For example, in my first children's story, The Doll That Grew, initially published by Macmillan South Africa in 1993 and scheduled to come out in digital format with Roundafire, I used my life growing up in Phokeng where boys played with wire cars as the basis of the experiences of the two main characters Neo and Pule. The dynamics between Neo and Pule also came from my own experiences with my brothers and male cousins.

Also, in the children's story "I'm not a baby," published by Macmillan India in 2012, I used my personal information and experiences to create the main character and the secondary character was based on my cousin Billy.

Additionally, I usually name my characters after my family and friends. I have two close friends called Neo (Neo is one of the main characters in The Doll That Grew), and  a key character in my newly-literate adult reader Boitshoko, published in 1996 by Heinemann South Africa, was named for my younger brother of the same name. My naming system does not necessarily align with how I feel about the real people. For example, my brother and I get on extremely well, but he's the villain of the piece in the story, and I kill him off in the first sentence starting with, " Boitshoko is dead..." It has become an inside joke in my family how I twist the real details of my personal information when I use it in fictional characters.

I also use places where I have lived, or continue to live, as settings for my stories. Many a time I have created characters who live in Phokeng or have lived there, and as you know, Phokeng is the village where my family is based and where I lived for a while. I have also created characters who live or lived in Johannesburg, because I have lived in this city for more than 25 years. I love the city deeply, and basing stories here gives me pleasure and I hope that I can create characters who also love this city and can give readers an appreciation of it too.

In conclusion, and as an update for those who followed my journey to move  back from Phokeng to Johannesburg full- time, I found a lovely little house in the Western suburbs of Johannesburg and moved there near the end of September. The cottage-share didn't work out for me for a number of reasons, despite the fact that I became good friends with the woman I shared it with.

But now I finally feel like I have found my new home in the city, and can put down roots here. There is room for Baby when she is in the city ( from Duran where she works or varsity, starting next year) and the house has a home office fully-fitted with cupboards ( for me to write from),  a very large kitchen with a sit-in area and a garden that has space for me to restart my vegetable gardening. And it has been raining intermittently for days this past week, which means that soil will be easy enough to turn in the little corner I have designated for growing my herbs and greens.
 **  Deep sigh.**
Ja! I'm happy here. Let's hope that sparks up my muse to start creating lots of stories!

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