The In Character Interview with Dawn Green
Bennett Ryan led her basketball team to a State championship at her old school, but after her mother's new job forces her to transfer to Riverside High, she finds herself playing alongside her former rivals and facing off against her old friends. With a scholarship hanging in the balance, Bennett can't afford to allow her conflicted feelings to affect her on the court. This tense set up is the premise for In the Swish (Red Deer Press) by Dawn Green, which has been called "a slam-dunk for basketball fans".
We're speaking to Dawn today as part of our In Character Interview series, which asks authors about how they create and shape characters and their own favourite characters in fiction. She tells us about how Bennett came to be, a fascinating "fire test" for getting to know characters, and the personal history of Bennett's name.
Tell us about the main character in your new book.
Bennett Ryan is a teenage girl, and she loves basketball. Period. I am adding in the extra period emphasis because it is important to note that Bennett, a senior in high school, is passionate about one thing — basketball. In fact she’s so determined to get a scholarship and continue playing after graduating that she doesn’t have time for boys or relationships or anything else that might get in the way of achieving her dreams. I’m not saying that a girl can’t have time to fit other things in to her life but Bennett reflects the reality of competitive female athletes. They need to live and breathe it if they want to take their game to the next level. Bennett knows a lot about the game but when it comes to fitting in with her new team she has much to learn, about herself, and about her teammates. In the end she comes to understand that while basketball may be her life, there is more to life than basketball.
Some writers feel characters take on a "life of their own" during the writing process. Do you agree with this, or is a writer always in control?
I absolutely do believe that characters take on a life of their own. I invite that. I spend a lot of time crafting my characters, from their likes and dislikes, their family background, their hobbies, to what their response would be if I put them in an intense situation. For example, if there was a fire… Are they the type to stand on the sideline and watch? Do they run into the smoke and flames and help? Do they run away? OR did they secretly set the fire? But after I “craft” my character I expect them to start growing, evolving, and living their own life. Kind of like a teenager. They start testing the waters, telling me where to go and what to do, and I just sit back, listen, and try to respond accordingly.
How do you choose names for your characters?
I don’t think there is a right or wrong way to name a character. It’s different every time. Sometimes I choose names simply because I like the way they sound, or I like a person who has that name, or (if I am naming a villain) I don’t like a person who has that name. Other times I go with a name that means something to me — Bennett was my Grandmother’s maiden name and it is a name I always thought I might call a girl if I had one. I also have a baby-naming book that I refer to. Sometimes I go through few names until I find one that fits.
What is your approach to crafting dialogue, particularly for your main character? Do you have any tips about writing dialogue for aspiring and emerging writers?
It has to sound real. That sounds simple but I find that some dialogues in novels sound choppy and forced. It can be difficult to give different characters a distinct voice but it is important that they don’t all sound the same because no two people really sound exactly alike. A character in my novel In the Swish has autism and she speaks fast, not necessarily because of the autism, just because it’s a part of who she is. It was challenging trying to get that across but it was important in defining her character.
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I’m not sure if this is a writing tip, but sometimes I find myself speaking the dialogue out loud, in the shower or to a mirror. I think it’s important to talk out the conversation from both sides and see what the natural responses are.
Do you have anything in common with your main character? What parts of yourself do you see in him or her, and what is particularly different?
Well, I too grew up loving sports, particularly basketball. We definitely have that much in common. But Bennett is a way better basketball player than I am. She’s the player I dreamed to be when I was a teenager. We may be different on the court but off it we’re pretty similar — passionate, determined, understanding, and I think we can both be a voice of reason when called for.
Who are some of the most memorable characters you've come across as a reader?
In general I am drawn to strong intelligent females. Who isn’t? My favorite Disney princess as a child was Belle because she loved books, gave Gaston the slip, and wasn’t afraid of the Beast. Other favorite lit females: Hermione Granger, Katniss Everdeen, Scout Finch, the two friends in Code Name Verity. Beyond that I enjoy John Green and Rainbow Rowell characters because they always have interesting but believable idiosyncrasies. Oh, and I recently read A Man Called Ove — I have a soft place in my heart for that man.
What are you working on now?
I am just wrapping up a novel that could be classified as New Adult. It takes place in a society (very similar to our own) that, for various reasons, is thrust into a revolution. My main character is just your average individual who, due to extraordinary circumstances and social media, becomes a revolutionary to some and a terrorist to others. In some ways it can be classified as “pre-dystopian”, following the events that occur as society spins out of control, eventually leading to a totalitarian government. Unfortunately, I too easily managed to draw on many parallels from our own international headlines. Not sure if anything will come of it but we’ll see.
Dawn Green graduated from the University of Victoria with degrees in languages and education. She is a high school Spanish and English teacher, basketball coach, and volunteers with Special Olympics BC.