Characterizing Character

The most important part of the story are the characters. Without characters for the reader to root for and live vicariously through, there is no point to the story. So crafting compelling, dynamic, interesting characters should always be in the back of your mind. For a kids story the main characters need to be human (in the flawed not anatomical sense) and they need to have the sensibilities of a child. When you are picking the sex for the character there are two things to consider. Boys will not read girls books. They define girls book as books with female protagonists. On the other hand, teachers and librarians are always looking for more books with strong female characters. Also, a majority of children author, editors, and publishers (or imprint heads) are women. This tends to skew books towards female characters as well. But ultimately you have to write the character that calls to you. Normally, it tells you if it’s male or female. Your primary characters are the ones that must show growth and development during the story arc.

Now that you have your primary characters or characters, you have to start building the people in your protagonist’s world. These can be adults as well as other kids. Sometimes it includes pets. These characters will not be as fully developed as your primary character, but they still might show some growth. You might enjoy making up complex back stories for these characters, but you almost certainly will not work it into your book. Most likely it would be distracting and irrelevant to the story arcs.

And finally after you’re done building all these characters and working them into your story, you have to figure out which ones are irrelevant. You may find that two of your characters are similar and do the same things. Feel free to combine them into one. Others have little or no point at all. Save them for future books.

This is a very cursory discussion on character. Lots of books give more detailed explanations. If you have any questions, ask me. I’ll be happy to go into anything in greater detail.

Now I’m off to work at my other job where I have no internet connection but lots and lots of slush.


Anonymous said...

What about the 'worthy adversary' scenario? With two fully developed characters we often see conflict that's more akin to real life and so there is great appeal, especially for boys. Sherlock has his Moriarity, Harry his Valdemort and Luke Skywalker his Darth Vader.

You would say?

The Buried Editor said...

For starters, a worthy advesary of the type you are describing can only occur in series. The antagonist is developed in small bits over the entire series. We don't learn much about Voldemort until Book 6. Moriarty is more of an invention of Hollywood and people other than Doyle (he's in like 2 stories) and Darth Vader is only fully developed in the three prequels where he is actually the protagonist. The only book I've ever read that successfully did an equal protagonist/antogonist division where each character is Artemis Fowl, and even that book could be argued to have 2 protagonists, a hero and anti-hero.

Now the villian does have to be worthy in a sense. Just as the good guy has to have flaws, the bad guys have to have some redeeming features. No human is perfect one way or the other. Gone are the days of space opera and the melodramatic genres of all good or all bad characters. You have to have a good villian to have good conflict or the story won't work. But ultimately your reader has to like your main character or they flat out won't care if the hero defeats the villain.