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SA Partridge

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Deconstructing Kendall

Creating believable characters isn’t really that hard. For me, the characters are the easy part because they exist from the beginning, and my job is to simply shape the novel around them.

Let me use Kendall from my latest novel Fuse as an example. I was renting a small cottage in Harfield Village when he popped into my mind, fully formed. Anything might have incited his arrival, a black-clad youth walking down the road, a sad kid sitting at the train station dreading going to school, a couple of goth kids in Long Street pretending the rest of the world didn’t exist – it could have been one of them, it could have been all of them. It could have been someone I knew long ago who moved away and fell out of touch.

I was walking home from the train station when the character was born. He wasn’t Kendall then, but a nameless teenager with black painted nails, and worn clothes, long unruly hair and a hidden smile that only came out on the rarest of occasions. I had to write a book about him.

The book began as a diary. His name was William, and he was bitterly unhappy at school and at home, looking for a way out. Music was his only consolation. I toyed with the idea of him finding happiness as a musician in the end. But something didn’t sit right. The book didn’t flow. The pace was wrong, the whole story was wrong. I stopped writing and forgot about it for a while. My notebook gathered dust.

When Morne Harmse committed the unthinkable in Krugersdorp, I remembered my story but didn’t put pen to paper until the media began their campaign of ignorance. Then I started writing again with a vengeance.

I changed from first person to third. I changed William’s name to Kendall, giving him a family and a brother whose personality was as different to his own as a dog’s is to a polar bear. I also added a third character, Craig, to act as a catalyst. You know when a story is right and when it isn’t. Only when I added Justin and Craig to the story was the character of Kendall able to shine. Then they all came alive.

As for dialogue, I don’t spend my days following teenagers around with a notebook, writing down everything they say. I just imagine the conversations Kendall and Justin would have on their way home from school. It’s natural, like playing pretend as a child. You just do it.

Writing is easy if you love it. Its fun if its not a chore. If you think of your characters as people then that’s how they will come across on paper.

It works for me.

 

Recent comments:

  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    February 4th, 2010 @15:42 #
     
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    Fascinating. I am taking notes. Love the idea that what characters need to come alive is other characters. Where would Romeo be without Juliet (or Mercutio, for that matter?)

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