Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Anita Rau Badami's secret to creating believable characters

The Hero's Walk finalist answers eight questions submitted by eight other authors.
Anita Rau Badami is the author of The Hero's Walk. (CBC)

What does it take to write a book that's powerful enough for Canada Reads? If Anita Rau Badami is to be believed, the secret is a good imagination, quality pyjamas and... conversing with your houseplants. Badami's novel The Hero's Walk was championed by actor Vinay Virmani in 2016.

Below, Badami answers eight questions submitted by eight of her fellow writers in the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A. 

1. Joy Fielding asks, "How do you go about creating believable characters?"

I start with a small detail drawn from somebody I know or have observed, any little thing to provide the seed of truth from which my character can grow. This is merely to push my imagination into gear, after which I begin to invent furiously. I also create an entire backstory for my characters — where they live, their favourite food, family, friends, etc. These details are the invisible scaffolding for the whole structure and don't necessarily get used.

2. Shilpi Somaya Gowda asks, "What's your best 'fuel' for a good writing session: a great night's sleep, a long walk, a strong cup of coffee or a glass of wine (or scotch)?"

A conversation with all my houseplants in winter when I am incarcerated indoors, or those in my yard in summer. I murmur pleasantries to them and they sing to me. After about half an hour of this mutual lovefest, I am ready to dig in to my writing, completely rejuvenated.

3. Marina Endicott asks, "What's your favourite book with the worst ending?"

Saul Bellow's The Adventures of Augie March. I love that book but have no idea why it ended where it did. The first time I read it, I thought that perhaps my copy of the book was missing the last few pages. Imagine my disappointment when I discovered it was all there and that's all there was to it.

4. Raziel Reid asks, "If it were revealed that the inspiration to write was bestowed upon mere mortals by the angel Lucifer, would you forsake him?"

Never. And anyway, since I am Hindu (even if severely lapsed) by birth, Lucifer is just another fairy tale cooked up by some inspired soul a long time ago.

5. Tracey Lindberg asks, "Favourite place to read? To write?"

On my couch. On my couch.

6. Ian Brown asks, "Do you get dressed to write? Or do you get to the computer as fast as you can?"

I favour silk pyjamas, which make me feel royal but also allow me speedy access to my workstation when inspiration hits. 

7. Dianne Warren asks, "What do you think of the creative writing adage 'write what you know'?"

I think it is useful in part but not entirely. There is nothing wrong with using details drawn from what you know to add authenticity to your fiction or give it added richness, colour and texture. But at some point it becomes necessary to deviate from the real and start using your imagination to spin a story. After all, the aim of a creative writer isn't to faithfully record an experience but to invent one. I, for one, would bore myself to death if I stuck to writing only what I knew.

8. Frances Itani asks, "If you were to have a silent conversation with a now-dead writer, which writer would you choose, and from which period? Or perhaps you already converse with dead writers?"

The other day, I was tied up in an existential knot over identity and otherness and who-am-I when Oscar Wilde hovered over from the other side, gave me a sardonic look and said, "Be yourself; everyone else is already taken."