Choosing a Character for My Novels

When writing novels, one of the hardest things can be creating characters and choosing names. This gets particularly complicated when the character is not only going to appear in one novel, but a whole series. My second novel was going to be the starting point for such a series.

Tokyo 20/20 Vision marks the official start of the ‘Iwakura Series‘ although he actually appeared very briefly at the end of my first novel, Hijacking Japan. In coming up with the name for the key character in the series I had a couple of conditions that the name had to meet with a key one being that it would have to have a good nickname based on the English translation of the Japanese surname. I worked through several possibilities before I decided upon Iwakura, which I particularly liked due it being a part of Kyoto which I have visited and stayed in a few times, including during my first trip to Japan back in 1989. That ‘Rock’ is the translation of the ‘Iwa’ part of ‘Iwakura’ meant that the nickname condition was fulfilled.

I had already decided upon Iwakura’s profession before I started writing. I wanted to avoid something that would require too much technical knowledge – especially in an area that I had little knowledge or experience of. In Hijacking Japan, the first half of the book largely required no detailed knowledge beyond my own experiences of living and visiting Japan and from my research about the shinkansen. In the second half there is even more information that revolves around the police, but managed to deal this through creating a new unit that would not necessarily be bound by standard procedures (and I do something similar in Tokyo 20/20 Vision too). But by the time I was finishing Hijacking Japan, the potential to use a photojournalist as a key character had developed.

Through my research on the JL123 crash, I had met Naonori Kohira who had been the first photojournalist to reach the crash site. I had come across his book 4/524 and subsequently did the translation for the ‘Afterword‘ in an updated eBook version. As well as his photos of JL123, Kohira has also influenced other aspects of the JL123 story – most notably the movie version of Climber’s High, but is also discussed in my book Dealing with Disaster in Japan, my chapter ‘Visualisation of Death in Japan: The Case of the Flight JL123 Crash‘, and my article ‘Disaster Narratives by Design: Is Japan Different?‘. I often meet up with Kohira when I am in Tokyo and these chats have been very instructive in developing Iwakura. You can find out more about Kohira at his website. In addition to Kohira, I also know the photographer Brett Simison and our chats have helped me to understand the modern world of photography and what its like working with journalists and others.

The great thing about modern photojournalism, at least the parts I would be focussing on in the novels, is that it wouldn’t require any knowledge of specialist information, legal issues, etc. It also gave me the freedom to have a character work with but also independent from the police depending on the story. It meant that there could even be stories that didn’t have any crimes at all, if I wanted to take it in that direction, which would have been harder with a police character. That photojournalists travel a lot would also provide the opportunity to discuss a variety of places – which I often enjoy as a reader, so wanted to bring into my novels.

The main complication about having the key character being a photojournalist is the photographs themselves. I will talk more about this in another post.

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