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Writing For Children: Creating Memorable Main Characters

Author : jon bard

Submitted : 2011-06-21 05:14:09    Word Count : 693    Popularity:   19

Tags:   writing children's books, characters

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If you’ve studied fiction writing you know that characters rule. Above all, your protagonist must leap off the page as a living, breathing being. Your antagonist (the force working against your main character) must be similarly real. But if you’re writing an adventure story, or a thriller with a breakneck plot, why all this fuss about the characters? Because every plot point is a result of who your protagonist is: the situations in which he finds himself, how they affect him, the ways he reacts, and why he cares in the first place.

Given the importance of primary characters in fiction, it’s wise to spend time developing them beyond their general descriptions, likes and dislikes, and one or two personality quirks. Try these writing exercises to help reveal surprising aspects to your characters without bleeding them (metaphorically) dry:

Describe your character from the bottom up. Close your eyes and picture your character’s feet. Is she wearing shoes? Are they clean or dirty? What do her socks look like? Are there any holes in the toes? Now move up your character’s legs. Is she wearing pants, shorts or a skirt? If you can see her legs, what do they look like? Any bruises or scabs? What’s in her pockets? Move up to her shoulders. What does her shirt look like? Is she wearing jewelry? Does she have a purse or backpack? What’s in it? Finally, describe your character’s face.

You’ll find that the traits a character has control over (cleanliness, what’s in her wallet) tell you much more about her than her physical makeup. Things your character might not control (the uniform she has to wear for school, the scar on her knee from a skateboarding accident) will give you a window into other aspects of your character’s life.

Identify your character’s biggest fear, or what makes him most uncomfortable. In riveting fiction, a protagonist’s deepest, darkest secret is forced to light. If you’re writing for young children, the "fear" might simply be something that bothers your character that he wants to fix (a fight with a friend, anxiety about starting school). Either way, you need to mine these emotions in your plot. But first, you have to really explore them. Take your character and place him in a situation that triggers his biggest fear (it’s best if it’s not a situation from your book). Write about your character’s reaction. Does he help himself, or seek help from an adult or authority figure? Does he curl up and hide, or come out swinging? Try different reactions, and see which is most believable.

Do this with your antagonist as well (if the antagonist is a character and not something like a tornado or an illness). Finding your villain’s weak spots is as important as finding what makes your hero run and hide. How would an acquaintance describe your character? Adopt the viewpoint of your character’s best friend, and write a paragraph in that person’s voice describing your protagonist. Repeat from the viewpoint of your character’s parents, teacher, and next door neighbor. Then have your protagonist describe herself in first person. Ideally, the characteristics will overlap, but not be identical in each description.

Do the same for your antagonist, and then have your hero and villain describe each other. A lot of tension can be found in misunderstandings between characters.

Remember that how much you reveal about your protagonist depends on the story’s viewpoint. If writing in first person, the reader would only know what the narrator thinks of himself, not what other characters think of him (unless they make their feelings known). So the reader might be missing some information. However, in third person, the author has the option of drawing a more impartial picture of the protagonist, and revealing nuances of character the protagonist might not even be aware of.

For much more about developing characters -- and every other aspect of writing children's books -- come visit me at http://cbiclubhouse.com

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Laura Backes is the Publisher of Childrens Book Insider, the newsletter for childrens writers. For much more free information about getting started writing for children, visit http://cbiclubhouse.com and join the Fightin Bookworms!

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