Characters are essential to fiction stories. Children readers demand one thing from writers: CHARACTERS WORTH CARING ABOUT. They have to be interesting people engaged in challenging, age-appropriate activities. I love to read anything fiction, but I have one condition when I pick up a book to read. I have to care what happens to the characters of the book. If by the fiftieth page I haven’t found one thing to like about any particular character, I close the book and move on to another. That’s what you want from all your readers. You want them to never want the story to end., or to ask when will there be a sequel.
So where do the characters who live in the pages of our manuscripts come from? The broad answer is anywhere and everywhere. Of course this doesn’t help you. The most likely places to find characters for children’s books are:
1. Ourselves: Going to back to our childhoods, we can develop characters from those in our past and use these references under the guise of a fictional human or animal character. Revisiting childhood adventures, using real-life situations as a springboard into a story, shaping true incidents into compelling stories, ones children will want to read without writing the story exactly as it happened to you. Remember, these memories are springboards. We’re writing fiction here, not non-fiction.
2. Our Children: many incidents involving our children’s lives–at home, school or in sports and recreation become ideas to build upon.
3. PEOPLE WE KNOW OR HAVE KNOWN: How many of us have had that peculiar teacher that stuck with us through the ages. Using their mannerisms and changing their characteristics drawn from our imagination can suddenly create a great animal character for a fictional story. Be certain to change enough so that no one is offended if they read the story and realize it’s about them!
4. PETS: Authors’ pets are a favorite source of story characters.
5. THINGS WE OWN: Look around your home and at your possessions. These can serve as character inspirations. I.E. that old beat up baseball glove you found out in the field behind thorn bushes. It’s real old. Now imagine the character that once owned it. Why did he/she lose it? Or, was the glove thrown away? What type of person would do this…. and etc.
6. HISTORICAL CHARACTERS: Writers who love history have a limitless supply of great characters to draw on. Write it so that young readers can find qualities in these historic characters that relate to modern kids.
7. OUR NIGHTLY DREAMS: This is my favorite. Writers, by nature are dreamers. Dreams are the channels of the subconscious. Keep a journal by your bed. If you have a great dream, when you wake up, write it down, even in point form to trigger a recall in the morning. There’s a rich, untapped mine waiting for you to acknowledge it.
8. BOOKS THAT STIMULATE US: Taking a book that you enjoyed profusely and rewriting it from a different point of view.
9. THROUGH OBSERVATION: Writers must develop a keen method of observation of what’s happening around them. A children’s writer should observe children in all situations–at play, in school, in relationships, watching TV, or asleep. Watch their faces, listen to their words, feel their energy. This is the most instructive thing to do. Pay attention and really listen.