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19 April 2010 ·

Creating Characters

Nim riding Selkie, by Kerry Millard; Abigail Breslin on set as Nim

This is the piece I wrote to start off the Premier’s Reading Challenge blog in The Age newspaper

Characters feel so real to me it’s sometimes hard to remember that I’ve made them up! But they usually start with an image or an idea, and then asking myself “why?” or “what if…”, so they change as the story becomes clearer in my head. For Nim’s Island, the original idea was letters between a crabby author who thinks she’s too important to write about a little girl, and the girl whose life is much more interesting than the famous author’s.
So, why was her life exciting? I decided she was alone on an island. That meant she needed to be independent, brave and resourceful. Then, when I started to write, I remembered a story I’d written when I was nine, about a girl running away from an orphanage to live on an island. She loved animals, and finding and making things to survive in the wild. I knew that was my Nim!
For most people now, Nim probably looks and sounds like Abigail Breslin, because once a book becomes a film, the characters are shaped by the actors (and screenwriters, directors, make-up artists…) That can be hard for readers, and authors, because we all have our own ideas of what characters look like. Luckily for me, Abbie played Nim very much as I saw her.

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Wendy Orr is a Canadian-born Australian writer. Her books for children and adults have been published in 27 countries and won awards around the world. Nim’s Island and Nim at Sea have also become feature films, starring Jodie Foster and Abigail Breslin (Nim’s Island) and Bindi Irwin (Return to Nim’s Island.) Her latest book is Cuckoo’s Flight, a companion to the highly acclaimed Bronze Age novels Dragonfly Song and Swallow’s Dance. Read full bio