Sittin’ On The Porch – Fran Orenstein – Writing for Children Part Two

Last week Fran joined me on the porch for the first part of her education post about writing for children. She’s back today and we are chatting this out before it starts raining. So sit back and enjoy your sweet tea with us, while she gives us the rest of her wisdom.

How does the writer develop characters kids will love or hate?

Characters need to come alive for kids. Average kids are not naturally introspective and don’t read into the psychological make up of a character or see the nuances. They are pragmatic and see the obvious. So establish characters that real, breathing, feeling, people. You are three-dimensional and your characters are, too.

Interview your character and report back as if you were a reporter on a T.V. talk show.

Write everything down on a piece of paper or on a story board.
Include the following, even if you don’t ever use them. It gives you a perspective while you’re writing:
1. Appearance
2. Name, vital statistics
3. Family
4. Friends
5. Location
6. Interests and hobbies
7. Fears
8. Likes and dislikes
9. Love and hate
10. Desires and wishes
11. What is the current problem or problems
12. How would he/she like to resolve it?

Then weave all that into and throughout the story. Some answers will only require a brief mention…Some won’t even appear. They can be seen through the eyes of other characters in the book.
As an example, in The Shadow Boy Mystery ‘tween series, book one Mystery Under Third Base, the protagonist, Willie is described through eyes of the strange boy Huby. “The watcher looked at the brown curls that fell over the boy’s smooth round face. Willie was small and thin, but the watcher could see a hint of the tall, strong man he would one day become.”
In the same paragraph, Huby then describes himself through his actions. Unconsciously the observer [Huby] pushed aside his own hair that fell forward in straight, yellow sticks across his eyes.
In the single volume trilogy of fantasy thriller novels, The Book of Mysteries for ‘tweens and young teens –

Tyler’s uncle creates the first spark of excitement at the very beginning of book one, Revenge of the Wizard, when he tells our hero, Tyler, “ You must find a shop called Beadlesberry’s Rare Books. That in itself is difficult, because the bookshop is sometimes there and sometimes not,” Thaddeus said.
Tyler squinted up at his uncle. “What?”
Thaddeus smirked. “Well sometimes it disappears. Let’s just say it’s an unusual bookstore.”
Tyler nodded like he knew what his uncle was talking about.
… “Now where was I?” Thaddeus said, scratching his ear. “Of course. First find the bookstore…. It’s on the left, if it’s there. Or was it the right? No, I distinctly remember the left, between the candy store and the drugstore. The book you want is The Book of Mysteries. Great fun. And watch that Beadlesberry. Strange fellow, really strange.” Thaddeus flicked his wrist toward his face. “Oops, I’m late. Have to catch that flight west. You enjoy your adventures, and be sure to tell me all about it when I see you again.” He spun toward the door, took two giant strides, stopped, and twisted around. “Make friends with the book or it will thwart all your fun.”
This early interaction between Tyler and his uncle provide the opening of a door into the strange and fantastical world Tyler and his best friend, Zack will experience.

Repeat this development process for all the main characters and some of it for the important secondary characters to give them dimension. Avoid cliché characters – the bully doesn’t have to be hulking, he/she can be the tiniest kid on the block. Fat people are not necessarily jolly, in fact it can be a cover for anger, misery. The character who appears to be cruel and villainous can turn out to be the best asset to the protagonist.
Reveal the characters to the reader through observation, conversation, body movement, thoughts, and behavior.

Finally, show, don’t tell. Readers relate to action and in this visual world of today, kids will understand movement and active description. Consider this excerpt from The Centaurs of Spyr book three in The Book of Mysteries trilogy.

“Mag Merwil shook his head. Just as he was about to speak, they heard a violent scratching at the door. Kai rushed to open it. A young sapling bent forward from the yard, a branch reaching toward the opening where the door had been. Kai jumped back before it scratched his face. “Oh pardon me, young master Kai, but I have an important message for Mag Merwill.”

They all ran out of the house and followed the line of saplings that appeared one by one along the path. When they reached the gate, Mag Merwill addressed the elm that stood guard. “You have news for us, Master Elm?”
“Indeed! A new turn of events has occurred that may have bearing upon your problem.”
Why can’t he talk in a simple language, Tyler thought? This is like reading some story written a hundred years ago.

This scene has visual elements, movement and talking trees, but you also get insight into Tyler through his thoughts.

I could have written it this way. There was a knock at the door. Kai opened it and looked at the sapling standing there.
“I have a message for your father,” the sapling said. “Follow me.”
They all went down the path to the elm tree that was standing guard at the gate.
“You have news for me?” Mag Merwill asked?
“Yes, something new is happening.”
I wonder what it is, Tyler thought.

Which would catch your interest? The verb to be is important as it denotes existence, but it’s also a passive verb. Which of these makes you happy because there is visual movement? He was singing as he was walking along the path. or, He sang as he trotted along the path.

A writer jumps into the confusion of rules, and screams, “I can write a children’s book.” Then he wipes the sweat off his brow, she flexes her fingers and stares at the blank page. WAIT! You forgot a few things. Go back to the beginning and choose an age group, pick a genre, create a plot, develop characters and a setting. Now breathe deeply three times, and begin.

Great insight into writing children’s books, Fran. Thank you so much for sharing with us. Find out more about Fran on my Porch Guests page.

If you’d like to be a guest on the porch, give me a hollah! The only catch is you have to talk about something you’ve learned along your writing journey that can help other writers.

Until then…Write On my friends.

About Kelly Abell

I am a writer, blogger, and graphic artist. My aim for you is to utilize this blog to help you improve your writing skills, and to educate you on the publishing business. If you need help with writing, want to self-publish a book and need advice, or just want to kick a story idea around to see what works best, that's what I'm here for. As I gain knowledge from editors and publishers, I will share that knowledge with you. As writers we should always strive to improve our craft and grow. A day should not pass where you haven't learned or tried something new with your writing. Many thanks to my Night Owl Friend, Lea Ellen Borg for editing my posts! Best to you and all your characters and stories. Write on, my friends...Write on.
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