Whiti Hereaka’s Online Journal

Te Papa Tupu Journal Entry 1 – Thursday 18 October 2012

Way back when I was a pre-teen, my favourite past time was creating friendship books. Friendship books came after friendship bracelets but I must have spent as much time creating those pages as I had done knotting together bright threads that I had safety pinned to the knee of my jeans.

A friendship book was an exercise book decorated with pictures pull from the latest teen magazines. You’d paste a picture of a heart-throb or a band or the actress you’d all like to be on one page and on the other your friend would fill in their vital statistics – their name, their birthday, their favourite colour, band, food…

Yes, friendship books were a kind of “proto-facebook” – albeit a very low-tech, not far reaching version. But the idea behind it was kind of the same: a collection of your friends’ personalities that you can browse at your leisure.

I’d been thinking about friendship books as I was writing the first draft of my novel. Partly because I’m writing the novel in first person and my protagonist Bugs, is sixteen and partly because a friendship book is a handy tool for character creation. The vital statistics I collected when I was a kid are the same things I think about when I’m writing about Bugs, or any other character – what is their name? Do they have a nickname? How did they get that? When were they born? What do they like to eat? How tall are they? What do they look like? How do they move?

I’ve been thinking about the characters’ attitude to education, to religion, to sex, to love. One of the most interesting exercises in terms of attitudes for this project has been the $50 dollar question. If [character] had $50 right now, what would they do with it? At the start of my novel one of the characters – Stone Cold – is seen by Bugs as being very rich and very spoilt, so Stone Cold might look at the $50 dollars and say, “Is that all?” In contrast, Jez who comes from an impoverished background may look at that $50 and think, “Sweet, food bill sorted.”

The $50 dollar question can be asked at any stage of the story – it may prove a useful tool for tracking character arcs – have the characters’ attitude to money changed by the middle of the story? At the end?

As I read through the first draft of the novel I’ll be looking at how my characters’ lives change and how that affects their attitude to money, education, sex, love, friendship and family. I’m hoping that this will make them rounded, complex people, rather than a collection of information on a page.

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