Like Your Characters --
Think Like Your Readers
Copyright © 2007 by VS Grenier, All Rights Reserved
Children donít care about plot,
setting, or a book full of suspense. Well they do, but only after the
characters bring a child into your story. Letís think about that for a
Do you remember wanting to go on
escapades with Pippi Longstocking? Longing to escape down the river with
Huck Finn? Or solve a mystery with Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys? These
characters became your friends and you want your characters to befriend
the children who read your books or stories, too.
Potential story characters are all
around you. You just need to open your eyes to see them walking to
school, shopping in the mall, bike riding or skating down your street.
If you close your eyes, you see them in your memory -- the child you
once were, the friends you remember from your childhood, the children
you've raised or the children you've known. The point is you can draw
from these potential characters to make your story characters more life
Believable characters arenít thought up
and written down in black and white. Their born from real people and
are revealed to readers through your craft of storytelling. When you do
this well, your reader will identify with your main character, and
they'll feel that character's fear and elation as he/she struggles to
succeed in the book. The reader will believe the other characters in
your story are either there to help or stand in the way of your main
character and as the characters in your story grow and change, the
reader will share that growth. To make this magic happen, you need to
believe in the characters whose story you're writing. You need to know
them intimately. And you need to show them to your reader.
So how do you go about showing your
characters to your reader? For me, I start with the physical traits.
First you need to have fat, plump, round, fleshy characters. You need
to know how your character looks to understand how they feel, behave, or
see themselves in their own flesh.
One thing I learned being a buyer in my
former life is that if you want to be successful you need to dress the
part. Well the same thing goes for your characters. You need to dress
them for their part in the story.
For example: My character has blonde
straight hair. Cut shoulder length and is pulled back in a ponytail.
Their eyes are small, close together and are dark midnight blue in color
with dark brown eye brows perfectly plucked. Theyíre of average height,
wide in the hips, and perfectly proportioned all around. Their lips are
dry and they wear braces with purple rubber bands. They have three
earrings in the left ear and two in the right. The clothes my character
wears are tee shirts with ĺ length sleeves, jeans, plain white tennis
shoes and crew shocks.
From this description you may think
this is an A student, a tomboy perhaps, or even a loner. The person I
used was myself; I was an average student, I knew many people but kept
to myself outside of school, I was in then drama club, and yes I was a
big time tom boy.
Now that we have a round, plump, fleshy
character we need to give them a name. Picking a name can be one of the
hardest things for me. I tend to look at names in a stereo-typical
For example: My name happens to be
Virginia Ann, which sounds very southern, but I was born and raised in
California. I was named after my aunt and so my name really has family
history to it. Remember naming your character is like naming your
children. You donít want to give them a name they canít live up to or
doesnít fit the way they look or act in your eyes.
Finally you need to make them act and
feel like a real child. One way to do this is to ask them questions
about themselves. Here are few questions I ask my characters:
Who do you want to be
when you grow up?
What is important to you?
Do you have brothers or
Do you get along with
Are both your parents
What subject do you like
Who is your favorite
What sports to you like?
Can you play a musical
What do you hate?
What do you like?
Whoís your best
Like to eat and drink?
Movies, T.V. shows, and
music you like?
Whatís the worst thing
that has happened to you?
What do you do for fun?
If you can have anything
what would it be?
What would you change
After I interview my characters as
fully as possible, I then put them in a situation with each other. This
may be a scene I end up using for my story, but mostly itís just an
exercise to see how they relate to each other. Then I take each
character and put them in a scene with a stranger on the street or at
the mall. This gives me a better idea of how they talk, act, and feel
about different environments.
Showing how your characters feel when
they interact with other characters in the story gives you dialogue and
vivid descriptions of whatís going on inside your characterís head.
Just remember when you start to move them around to add in flaws.
Children know theyíre not perfect and they donít expect your characters
to be. Also, make sure your characters are not falling into a
For example: A teenager, who wears all
black, has purple hair, a pierced nose, and combat boots doesnít mean
they are a trouble maker or a loner. Maybe they are an advocate for
animalís rights, someone who plays the piano, or theyíre on the chess
team. This isnít far from the true nowadays anyway. I worked with
people who looked just like this when I was a buyer in teen fashion (Hot
Topic/Torrid). They were business savvy, smart, straight A students
when in school, who just happened to love punk music and didnít let the
norm tell them how to dress.
As you develop your characters,
trust them to let you know how they feel about a situation
and use their dialogue, thoughts and actions to express their feelings.
Believable childrenís characters act, think, feel and speak as ďreal