It's time once again for WRITERLY WISDOM where every Wednesday we will sneak a peek into the world of writing and publication. Saying your Aunt Matilda is a "character" might not be a good thing but saying someone in your story is a GOOD character is something every writer strives for in their stories. This week my friend Sarah Frances Hardy shows us how to create a great picture book character. Take it away Sarah Frances...
by Sarah Frances Hardy
Because I’m an illustrator, I think visually and my characters usually start out as a doodle or drawing. The main character for my debut picture book started out like this:
After I drew this little girl, I immediately wanted to know her story. Why the black dress? Why the pointy shoes? Why the sass? So I started asking questions. Lots and lots of questions ... I asked things like:
-Where does she go when she’s sad?
-What is on the nightstand next to her bed?
-Does she have a sister?
-What does she love most in the world? Hate?
-Does she have a pet?
-What does her lunchbox look like?
-Has she ever had stitches?
The more questions I asked about my character, the more I started getting to know her. And the more I started to get to know her, the easier it was to create a story around her because I knew exactly how to push her buttons.
And that is what you have to do as a picture book writer: you have to create an adorable, interesting character and then you have to mess up her world. And if you know what she loves the most and hates the most, then you know exactly how to create conflict for your character. So spending lots of time brainstorming and fine-tuning exactly who this person is is an important first step.
Now if you’re not an illustrator, no worries! You can still use a visual cue as a jumping off point to create a character. Simply flip through children’s catalogs, hang out in the park, drive your child’s carpool and tune in.
Notice things like the little girl in the perfect white sundress and white sandals who refuses to climb on the jungle gym. Is she worried about getting dirty? Why? Did her grandmother make her dress? Is her grandmother sick? Wouldn’t it be terrible if someone splashed her with mud? If she tore her dress? .... Maybe she got hurt the last time she was on the jungle gym? Or maybe someone teased her because they saw her panties?
Ask! Ask! Ask!!
Stare at the picture you drew or selected from a magazine, and dig deep. Imagine the characters’ lives and their motivations. Ask real live children questions like “Why did you decide to wear a cape today?” “Does anything live under your bed?” “Do you often keep a family of lizards in your back pack?”
And don’t be afraid to ask tons of questions because the more questions you ask, the weirder they get, and the more interesting your character will be.
And interesting characters make for interesting stories!
With a juris doctorate cum laude from the University of Mississippi School of Law, a Bachelor of Arts in fine art from Davidson College, and subsequent studies at Parsons School of Design in New York and Paris, Sarah Frances Hardy took an early retirement from practicing law to paint and write full time.
Her first book PUZZLED BY PINK which she both wrote and illustrated was published in April of 2012 by Viking Children’s Books. Her next book PAINT ME! about a little girl who starts out the day painting a portrait of her dog and ends up painting everything in sight will be published in May of 2014 by Sky Pony Press