Well, I did it. I made the deadline for my honestly-I-promise-I-should-be-able-to-tell-you-soon-but-for-now-it’s-still-all-top-secret project. (Yay me!)
I’ve spent most of this week enjoying not being on a deadline by spending my time carving intricate details out of fondant for my Threadcakes contest entry (keep an eye on my Twitter feed later this week if you want to see it), and thinking about future writing projects.
And mostly what I’ve been thinking about is character-driven picture books.
The last time Bri and I talked, she told me she’d like me to try my hand at one, and, since I’m doing PiBoIdMo (see this post for details), this seemed like the perfect time to try.
Character-driven picture books are, as the name says, where the character drives the story – not the plot. The characters in these stories have big personalities, and their stories could only happen to them. In fact, if you took them out of their stories everything would fall apart.
Some examples of character-driven picture books include: Mo Willems’s Pigeon books, and Elephant & Piggie books, Jane O’Connor’s Fancy Nancy books, Melanie Watt’s Scaredy Squirrel books, and James Dean’s Pete the Cat.
Characters in these books have a few things in common:
- They’re likable – this may seem like a no-brainer, but your character has to be someone kids (and their parents) will want to keep coming back to.
- They’re relatable – the MC doesn’t have to be a kid, but they do have to have child-like qualities. Kids love being able to see themselves in books.
- They’re unique – there’s no one else out there like Fancy Nancy or the Pigeon. Their stories only work for them – if you pulled them out and replaced them with another MC, you’d have a completely different story, because no one else would react exactly the same way.
- They can be summed up in a few words – Fancy Nancy likes things fancy, Elephant worries so Piggie doesn’t have to, Pete the Cat is chill, etc. They all have one big personality trait that defines them.
Once you’ve come up with a character who fits these criteria, the next step is to get to know them inside and out – their fears, motivations, desires, and quirks. Sure, they may be defined in a few words, but that definition is going to leak over into all parts of their life. The key to having a character readers love is knowing them, and making sure their actions always stay true to their personalities.
Finally, after you’ve come up with your character, you need something to happen to them. Think up a list of possible situations and decide which one holds the most story possibilities for your character. You could even write out a few and see which story is the strongest and funniest.
So, that’s where I’m at. Brainstorming character ideas, and situations to put them in. What about you? Ever tried your hand at a character-driven picture book? Have a favorite one you’d like to recommend? Tell me in the comments.