This is Part2 of an article about creating your protagonist. Well, not just creating him, it’s about creating a powerful and memorable main character (MC). And, it’s based on an article I read at Jerry Jenkins, author of 186 books.
Part one discussed:
– Naming your character
– Making him quickly visible
– Let the reader be able to picture him
– Give him a backstory
– Making him realistic
– Making him heroic
You can check out Part1 HERE.
Now on to tips 7-11 for creating your MC.
7. The reader needs to see inside.
This strategy helps the reader connect to the MC. It helps the reader create a bond. It makes him want to turn the page and root for the character.
A great way to do this, in part and especially with children’s writing, is to let the reader see the MC’s thoughts. I do this with italics.
Here’s an example from “Walking Through Walls”:
I will be rich once I am an Eternal. I will have servants to toil in the land I own. Anything I want I will just get. Who can stop me?
It’s kind of like having the character whisper in the reader’s ear. The reader is privy to what’s going on inside the MC. His hopes, his fears, his anger, his happiness . . . his emotions.
This is powerful.
Another great tool for this is writing in first person.
Take a look at the first chapter, first paragraph of “The Talented Clementine” by Sara Pennypacker:
“I have noticed that teachers get exciting confused with boring a lot. But when my teacher said, ‘Class, we have an exciting project to talk about,’ I listened anyway.”
What a great first paragraph. What kid wouldn’t relate to that.
8. Make your characters a bit like you.
For this strategy, weave your experiences into the development of your MC.
You may not think you have anything in common with your MC. Or, you may think none of your experiences are relevant, but you’d be surprised. Your wants and fears and all the other emotions you have can easily make their way into your character. Even if the character is a different gender than you.
And, this can come in handy when you’re stuck for a reaction or even motions from your character.
In one scene in Walking Through Walls, the MC was drooling over some delicacies he saw but couldn’t have. I had to picture myself in the scene and think of what I’d do.
Would my eyes grow wide? Would my mouth hang open? Would I actually drool?
Other times, you might be stuck on how your character will move or use his hands. Again, you’ve got to step into his shoes. Act out how you’d move in a similar situation.
Would you wave your hands? Would your eyes blink quickly? Would you glare? Would you smile, laugh, or cry? Would you form a fist? Would you throw your hands out wide? Would you shove your hands in your pockets?
Finding these answers and using them in your story will be bits of you woven into your character.
9. The character arc.
The character arc is super important with writing for children.
Your story starts with the child having a problem. He tries and tries to overcome it. As he struggles to get past, over, under, around, or through the problem, he grows and changes in some way.
“The Talented Clementine,” is a perfect example of the character arc.
There was a talent show going on and Clementine wanted to be good enough at something to be in it. But, she didn’t believe she had any talents. She tried to get out of it, she tried to find something she was good at. Everything failed. Finally, at the end, her principal needed her help directing the show and Clementine did an amazing job. She found her talent.
10. You’ve got to ‘show’ your story and your characters.
While you want the reader to know all about your MC, you don’t want to tell the reader.
Everything your character does will convey what he’s about. How he acts. How he reacts to situations. How he talks. How he moves. These all show what the character is about. And, adding his thoughts here and there helps too.
Here’s an example from “The Chocolate Touch” by Margot Apple:
“At last he came to a small central ball of cotton batting, and there right in the middle, was a little golden ball. He picked at the ball with his fingernail and peeled away the gold paper. . .”
It could have read: John opened the box and ate the chocolate. Instead, the author shows the reader exactly what John is doing. You can feel the character’s anticipation. This is showing.
11. Research, if needed.
Jenkins says, “Resist the temptation to write about something you haven’t experienced before conducting thorough research. Imagination can take you only so far.”
It’s a sure bet that I did lots and lots of research writing Walking Through Walls. Set in 16th century China, my imagination could take me only so far. And, it’s essential when writing in a specific time period that you get it right. You want the flavor of the time. You want the authenticity.
But, I also do research for lots of my children’s ghostwriting clients. I may be writing a fiction story about a horse or a pig and I want to know what their real characteristics are so I can incorporate them into the stories.
Or, maybe it’s a story about a boy with asthma or a girl learning to swim. Getting the details right matters.
Summing it up.
There are at least 11 elements to writing a great character, a memorable character, the first of which is to give him the right name. Use all the tricks of the trade when writing your characters to ensure their engaging, connectable, and memorable.
Do you have your own strategies to write a great character? I’d love for you to share with us.
10 Tips to Developing Your Characters
Shoot me an email at: email@example.com (please put Children’s Writing Help in the Subject line). Or, you can give me a call at 834—347—6700