On character writing with Claire Varley: How did you come up with your characters for The Bit In Between and how did their personalities evolve throughout the writing of the book?
From the start the book was meant to be an awkward love story and my two central characters, Oliver and Alison, were the starting point for the story. I knew who they were from the very beginning but as I worked over each version of the story I took the time to anchor them more firmly. By this I mean sharpening their motivations, desires and drivers, and trying to find that unique balancing point of genuine, flawed and well-meaning.
Alison in particular took the longest because I wanted a character who wasn’t sure what she wanted from life but she still needed motivation or else she seemed like this stagnant floundering nothingness compared to the rest of the characters. Her relationship with Sera helped define her motivations and evolved to encompass both a personal and professional element. When I finally figured this out it seemed really obvious and was a bit of a face-palm moment. Throughout the whole process of writing this book, every time I worked out a plot link it was like ‘Of COURSE! Clearly that’s what needs to happen!’ I had a lot of solo micro-Eureka moments with this novel.
In this book I write about a country and culture that is not my own and from the start I felt an incredible sense of responsibility to do this in a way that didn’t diminish, cheapen or rob the humanity from my Solomon Island characters. In my Arts degree Said was my staple and my Masters explored indigenous knowledge and decolonized methodologies, so I was very conscious of avoiding the romanticism and ‘noble savage’ lens through which the Pacific has so often been cast. I was so conscious of ensuring every character in this book was a whole character that had their own backstories and motivations, rather than simply being some kind of furniture for the central characters to navigate around.
Throughout the book there are little vignette’s that provide a momentary glimpse into the lives of passing characters. I decided on this early on because I wanted to provide a story that had central characters yet still engaged with the complex web of people we may only notice momentarily, but who each possess their own story. So in a way it was very much like real life: each character was themself right from the start but the more I got to know them, the more I understood all the things that had come before and made them who they were.
Thank you Claire for sharing how you came up with your characters for your novel, The Bit In Between.