Week of April 22, 2012—Creating Characters Kids Love with Joyce Sweeney
April 24, 2012—Picture Book Characters
This past weekend some writing friends (CiCi, Shannon, Augusta, Teddie) and I brought our friend and mentor, Joyce Sweeney, to town to teach us about creating characters. The twenty-one writers who jammed into the room represented genres from picture books to YA novels. None of us left disappointed. (As a testament to that, we’ve already filled sixteen of the twenty slots for Joyce’s September return visit.) This week, I’ll share some of Joyce’s insights about character development.
First, a definition:
Main Character—A role the reader wants to play.
Joyce said to imagine a character that a picture book audience would enjoy, you have to think of the audience members themselves. Picture books are aimed at 0-5 year olds. (Though we know other ages love picture books, too.) The books are usually read aloud by adults which means the language and vocabulary actually might be higher than that found in some middle grade novels. Why? Because an adult is there to explain and interpret, and don’t forget the assistance provided by the illustrations.
Picture characters are often children, but can be animals, child-like adults, or other stand-ins for the child. This age group, more than any, will accept characters of their own age. (Unlike older children who like to read about kids who are older than themselves.) So to understand what makes success characters in picture books, Joyce said to think about what five year olds are like:
· Tah-dah!—They often walk into the room with an “I’m-here” attitude.
· In general, they are optimistic.
· They don’t understand the difference between fantasy and reality and they don’t mind the two being mixed together. If you tell them a bear is speaking, they won’t question it!
· Five year olds like to become cowboys and monkeys, firemen and astronauts—so the sky is the limit with the kinds of characters we use.
· Often this age group feels protected. So if there’s something scary in a picture book (for instance, a monster under the bed), they can deal with that because an adult is close by to protect them. They aren’t afraid of adventure. As Joyce said, “Mommy will be there to pull me back to safety.”
· The world is a big place to explore and discover for this age group, so they are open to almost any and every adventure, story line, and event.
· Remember—who reads a picture book? EVERYONE! But who is the market pitched to? Zero to five year olds.
BEYOND MAIN CHARACTERS
Many picture books (and other works of fiction) have a supporting cast of characters. Joyce said, “We are each made up of hundreds of different people. When you write a book you have to become all the characters. All the characters have to come from some place in your heart.”
Coming tomorrow: Interviewing your main character.
Visit Joyce’s web site at: http://joycesweeney.net/