The origins of a special list of characters
Needing more names
It all started with four characters who play major roles in the last part of the easy town story (now book 12).
I decided early on that I wouldn’t change the original story in any substantial way. (The original story was done to explore some ideas with no intention of writing it down.) But I also recognised that the book version would allow me to dig deeper in some places and to extent the original story in others. And so, thinking about those four characters, I thought, maybe it would be more interesting to have eight of them.
By that time I had spent hours finding names for characters who had so far only been the admin team member, the new towner, the other architect or the guy in the ice-cream parlour … And I was so undecided where to go looking for the names for the additional four characters that I followed a spontaneous idea — the kind of idea where you want to make things simpler for yourself and you end up with a lot more work.
The idea and a challenge
The idea was to extent the list and have a new character for each letter of the Latin alphabet. This way I wouldn’t have to choose the first letter of the new names /:-).
Once that was decided, another thought wriggled itself into my consciousness. Aren’t people complaining that stories aren’t diverse enough? Alright, lets take up the challenge and create the most diverse list of characters ever written.
And I did. There are people of all sizes from dwarfs and small people to mediums and giants plus thin, medium and big characters. These characters have all sorts of characters from withdrawn to outgoing, from charming to brooding. And these people are from all continents, from many different groups like indigenous, European or Asian, many backgrounds, all sorts of different personal stories, different educations, many professions, many genders (Though in the first version of the list I left out transgender people, because I knew too little about them. By now they are in, too.), different sexual orientations, many different ages, all sorts for family constructs and kinds of relationships, different attitudes towards having children, different numbers of children, children who get involved in the easy town project and those who don’t, all sorts of hobbies and interests, loads of different dress-preferences, different stories of how the characters first connected to the easy town projects, many different roles in the easy town projects, different views on fighting, religion or social interactions, different strength levels and more …
I remember a moment when I went over the list and thought, Gotcha!
And then a thought popped up, smirking: But what about disabled people?
Annoyed at having the moment of triumph spoiled, I sneered: Well, the people on this list are there for a reason, for specific tasks. A blind person can’t possibly–
Why not, indeed? I thought. And smiled about myself.
This was the moment Heather got into the story. Heather is from Hay-on-Wye, and learned to navigate this town of books by the smells from the different bookshops. She gets a first mention in book 2, travelling, and her first scene in book 3, shaping. Plus, this addition is responsible for the story of blind Lula in the Otaon chapter of book 2, and for Ben’s story in the dot.story. A war veteran who lost both legs got on to the list as a result of this addition, too.
While physical disabilities could be fitted in, a certain degree of cunningness is required for the potential future tasks of these characters. So I had to leave out some people.
And again I thought I had done it. I had given every possible character and many characteristic a spot on the list (some letters got more than one entry). All was well — until I read an article by Hadley Freeman in the Guardian where she talks about the lack of positive representation of twins. Blast, I thought. I forgot to add a twin.
By now a twin got one of the spare spots, and some more spare spots are available. If you would like to make a suggestion, or if you are interested in adopting one of these characters, please, get in touch.
The complete list, and the stories of each character, will be published in connection with book 11, rebuilding. And by then the characters will have further evolved. I already have about seven characters that need to be updated.
A few peeks behind the scenes
When I wrote the stories of these characters in 2016, I gave them roots in different parts of the easy town story. Some of them already have a scene, and some have been main characters, like Devery and Hachiro in book 2, travelling.
I write have been, because Hachiro and Devery got a lot more room in book 2 than anticipated. Unfortunately book 3, shaping, is already so full of stories that I had to find something else for them to do until they get to play a part in the main story again.
The trouble is, once a character grows into a main character, you either have to use them or you have to send them away. If you reduce them to a background character something will feel off, or worse the reader will be disappointed, because they expect to see the main character in action again.
Another insight. Kaya, who was one of the original four characters, got roots going back to book 1, even though she doesn’t actually appear in that book.
When I wrote the first draft of the South Africa chapter, I messed Kaya up so much that I had to stop and remind myself who Kaya will be six years on.
Before trying again, I took a break from the chapter and completed the first draft for book 2. Only then did I return to the South Africa chapter, and luckily by then I was ready to shape a six years younger Kaya.
Outlook book 3, shaping
I can’t wait to go back to writing book 3, shaping, full time.
Some of the characters from the list will make an appearance there. Dragoness Nanda from Buenos Aires returns to the story. The wonderful Bertok, a mathematician and musician from Romania, who has a special connection to Alice, brings poetry along. Joshua from Canada, who got a tiny scene in book 1, becomes an important ally. Kaya from South Africa opens her exhibition at the compound, the new base of the town project in London. Navarro, the dwarf, from Argentina, joins the main project team. Heather is ready to step up. Xolani from South Africa is one of the background characters who shines through no matter what you do, and Ice-Nantacarn from Thailand joins the project to combat sexual violence, and others get an appearance too.
There are a lot of characters in the book series. The trick is not to worry about them. The stories are told in a way that the reader will usually know all they need to know about a character. The characters on the list are mostly additional characters in the early books, but when their moment comes, there will be time to remember who they are.
I wrote the first draft of the List in September 2016, just weeks after deciding to write down the easy town story. And yet, I still had many lessons to learn. It was only when I rewrote book 1, beginning, (after writing the first draft for book 2) that I realised how little attention I had paid to diversity in this part of the story. Of course, I always had the advantage that the easy town projects connect to all corners of the planet. That way characters from many different places and backgrounds were part of the story anyway. But it was my personal journey while writing book 2, travelling, that made me a lot more aware of how little I had made use of humanity’s wonderful diversity, and a portion of this in now reflected even in the early parts of the easy town story.