Today I’m joined by Australian author Carole Wilkinson, author of the wonderful Dragonkeeper books. Carole has just released the 4th book in the Dragonkeeper series, Blood Brothers, and the whole series now has a fantastic new cover design. I really enjoyed the first 3 books in the series, which I read many years ago, so I’m looking forward to getting back to that world again.
Thanks for joining me Carole!
It’s great to be travelling across the Tasman for today’s blog, hosted by Zac at the My Best Friends are Books blog. I’m writing about creating some of the characters in the Dragonkeeper series.
A Reluctant Heroine
Creating convincing characters is perhaps one of the hardest things about writing fiction. I rarely base characters on people that I know, not consciously anyway. When I created the main (human) character for Dragonkeeper, I wanted her to start with nothing. Absolutely nothing. Not even a name. And so I created a slave girl who has no freedom, no possessions, no friends. What she does have is resourcefulness. She has learned to make the most of her miserable life — finding a friend in a friendless world (Hua her pet rat), collecting a few precious items to call her own (a rusty iron blade, a white eagle feather, a piece of weathered wood shaped like fish) and enjoying simple pleasures such as a warm fire and a bowl of lentils flavoured with some purloined ginger.
I didn’t want her to be someone who has always known she was special, or who always had a dream to achieve something grand. At the beginning of the story, Ping has no expectation of any aspect of her life changing. She isn’t craving freedom, she just makes the best of a bad situation.
When offered escape she doesn’t snatch it, she hangs back and has freedom more or less forced upon her. When told she has latent special skills and the opportunity to take up an important role, she doesn’t believe it. That can’t be her. She struggles with her role as dragonkeeper.
Back in 2001, when I started writing Dragonkeeper I didn’t realise how much of me there was in my main character. Just like Ping needed a push to begin my journey to becoming a writer. I had absolutely no confidence that I could achieve that goal.
Inspiration for the Timid
When I was young, there were always those girls who effortlessly excelled. They were natural athletes or had a talent for music or were clever enough for maths and Latin to be a breeze. They were the ones teachers loved. I wasn’t sporty or musical, and I got average marks. I might well have been good at writing stories, but no one asked me to do that. Classes had 40-plus students and teachers didn’t remember my name.
I wanted Ping to be a character to inspire girls who are average and insecure, whose talents are hidden or yet to be acquired by years of hard work.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of planning the Dragonkeeper series has been creating the characters of the dragons. First there is Danzi who is frustratingly uncommunicative and past his prime, but who has a quirky sense of humour. In Garden of the Purple Dragon there is Kai, a cheeky dragonling, easily bored. Then in Dragon Moon I got to create a whole cluster of dragons — eight of them, all with very different characters.
I drew on Chinese mythology for the basic characteristics of the dragons — their colours, ability to shape-shift, and the fact that they hibernate in deep pools — and then developed these features. Chinese dragons come in five different colours — red, yellow, black, white or green. I started by deciding that each colour would be like a subspecies with its own characteristics. Red dragons are the biggest, with horns up to a metre long and blue whiskers. They are mediators. They can’t shape-change, but they can camouflage themselves. White dragons are the smallest and the best fliers. They can only shape-change into white birds. The yellow dragons are timid and they sing. The black dragons are more solitary. Unlike all the other dragons, they don’t like water much. They are bad-tempered and prone to fighting, but fiercely protective of their cluster. And the green dragons are natural leaders with exceptional shape-changing skills. They are as at home in the water as they are in the air.
Not all my dragons remain true to type. In the latest book in the series, Blood Brothers, Kai has lost interest in being a leader, and gentle Sha has undergone a radical personality change. I’m looking forward to developing the characters of my other dragons in future books.