Sunday, November 19, 2017

The View from Here - On Character

The View from Here – On Character

Recently while speaking to a group of college students about writing historical fiction, a young man asked, “How can you, an old white woman, know what it feels like to be a four year old black slave kid?”

He referred to my sub-plot about Armbruster Slade, aka Ledger, who featured in the life of Elisabeth Ackert-Riis, the protagonist.

Ledger was bought as a four year old in 1849 when the two Slade brothers, merchants, came across the slave market. The brothers differed in their opinions about the morality of slavery. The younger Slade bought the boy, took him to England and tore up his ownership papers.

The story goes on and the boy, named Armbruster Slade, becomes an adult and set out on his own with an annual stipend for life.

To step into the little boy’s head, one needs go no further than one’s own memory of being separated from a parent. Imagine being put on a train with a tag pined to your coat and told, “Your aunt will meet you at the station. Don’t talk to strangers.” It didn’t matter the race, the sex, or the religion, the child was wide-eyed with fear, but also fascinated by the change of scenery as the train ran along the river.

When you’re “old,” if you’ve paid attention, you can probably imagine yourself as nearly any kind of person.

You’ve felt rage at an injustice? You might get into a police officer’s head.

You’ve had your heart take a sudden leap off a cliff when meeting someone new? You can write about blind love.

You, or your spouse, have borne a child and watched it grow. The emotions are boundless.

It’s nice being old. So many variations of people generate emotional memories, some good; some not so good, but they are all there for the asking.

What experiences in your life have you drawn from to create your own characters?

Veronica Helen Hart is the award winning author of The Reluctant Daughters, where Ledger is introduced. With eight other published novels under her belt, as well as several short stories, she is currently working on a story about a boy who returns home from North Korea, having been kidnapped at the age of nine and released twenty years later, Boy Comes Home, and a paranormal murder mystery, The Knife.