Lazette Gifford
Publisher & Editor
zette@cableone.net

Think Like Your Characters --
Think Like Your Readers

By VS Grenier
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 momentó

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 like.

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 way. 

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:

1.      Who do you want to be when you grow up?

2.      What is important to you?

3.      Do you have brothers or sisters?

4.      Do you get along with your parents?

5.      Are both your parents living?

6.      What subject do you like in school?

7.      Who is your favorite teacher?

8.      Worst teacher?

9.      What sports to you like?

10. Can you play a musical instrument?

11. What do you hate?

12. What do you like?

13. Whoís your best friend(s)?

14. Like to eat and drink?

15. Favorite saying?

16. Movies, T.V. shows, and music you like?

17. Whatís the worst thing that has happened to you?

18. The best?

19. What do you do for fun?

20. Any pets?

21. If you can have anything what would it be?

22. What would you change about yourself?

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 stereotype. 

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 kidsĒ do.