Jan 6, 2013

Character Development

As I was walking on the treadmill (a miracle in and of itself), I found a notebook that I had left on it, which kept track of my pace/calories burned, etc.  I flipped through the notebook, and found several ideas for a picture book series.  I read through the ideas, and I was excited about them (which is always a good sign after a long period of time). One of those ideas I had tried getting published, but, of course, it didn't work out.  I couldn't understand why, because I thought it was my best work.  However, I realized that my character wasn't memorable...or even likeable.

You know those Little Critter books?  My book's voice had a similar quality...which, I stupidly thought, meant it was good enough to be published.  But as I walked, I remembered my time at the LDStorymaker's Conference and the class I took on character development.  A story isn't worth re-reading if you don't feel connected with the character in some sort of way.  "Olivia" is a character that parents can relate to since children are as erratic as she is.  Clifford the Big Red Dog is memorable, because, well, he's big and red.  Amelia Bedelia is hilarious, Winnie the Pooh is adorable, Dennis the Menace is the obnoxious neighbor that many are familiar with, and just about any other character you read about has something about them that makes them stand out.  My character had nothing.  In fact...I didn't even know who (or what) my character was.  I was so busy writing my book in the voice of Little Critter that I hadn't bothered figuring out his identity.  (Little Critter, by the way, was constantly getting into trouble, though the words of the book never actually said so).  I had some serious brainstorming to do.

In a way, I felt like I had an advantage since I had young children.  What attributes did my children have that I could use for my book?  Jacob talks.  All the time.  Gabriel freaks out if his sandwich drips mayo, and Jarod can't go ANYWHERE without his blanket, "Dee."  I thought, and I thought, and I thought, trying to figure out how any of these would work for my book.  It was getting pretty frustrating, because nothing seemed to be anything that would make a story character stand out from all the rest.  I tried to think of any and all personality traits.  Quirky?  Annoying?  Talkative?  Troublemaker?  Which ones haven't been used already?  And then suddenly, an idea struck.

I finally had my character's personality!  I guess it's more like a flaw, but if I can create it right, it should hopefully be humorous.  One of the things about picture books is that it is meant to be read out loud, and parents are the ones who will be reading them.  The book needs to appeal to both the child and the adult, which is actually kind of a challenge.  I never really realized how much adult appeal a picture book has to have until my dumb brain finally relayed that information back to me that it selfishly kept to itself all this time.

Anyway, once I figured out the personality, it was time for a character sketch.  I read somewhere that you truly have to know your character and love your character before others can know and love them as well.  Whether or not it's needed, a basic background is needed on them.  If you know and understand your character and their circumstances, then writing them will become natural, and the reader will recognize the dimensions of their personality as well.

Because I have four boys, it only seemed natural that all of my story characters be young boys, since that's basically all I know right now.  But with my hopefully brilliant personality trait I had assigned my character, I realized that a boy was just all wrong.  It needed to be a girl.  I named her and I even gave her a prop (because, obviously, my books are going to be big, and they're going to sell plush toys representing my characters, and I needed something irresistible).  I wrote a brief background on her, and now, I'm feeling confident in who my character is.  I'm actually really excited to be writing about her!

The challenge that I now face is incorporating my character into the book ideas I have already outlined.  Since I'm not a seasoned author, I guess I'm a little apprehensive about whether or not I'm forcing a character into a place where she may not fit.  Writing is definitely a lot of work.  It's a bit intimidating, but I'm hoping that I can start filling my nights with the creation process once again.

1 comment:

  1. Geez, Kimmie!! I had NO idea that ALL OF THAT went into writing a children's book!!! I LOVE how you write! I love how you write your blogs, your children's books, and your other novels. You are such a fantastic writer. I'd love to hear about your new character! I hopehopehope you are able to feel great about this book yo ur'e doing! I would love to read it!! I love you, little sis!! P.S. I would love the book even more if the character WAS like my precious little nephews!!