Dragonfly Words

More on Creating Characters

August 2, 2010
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The next best thing to attending the SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) Conference is reading the conference blog. One blog post caught my attention today. It is an interview with Carolyn Mackler on Creating Characters That Come to Life. In the interview, Mackler stresses the importance of:

  • Thinking about your characters quirks – what makes them special? Does your character twirl his/her hair when nervous? Does he/she trip a lot? Is your character prone to worrying?
  • Reading your books/story out loud so you can hear your characters – the way a character speaks says a lot about who the character is
  • Research – talk to real life people who share traits similar to your character’s. If you’re writing a nurse, talk to a nurse.
  • Imagine what your character’s closet looks like.

The third point was probably my favorite. Usually I try to imagine what a character’s bedroom looks like, but a closet is even better. While a bedroom is private space, people do occasionally wander into them. A closet, though, is completely private space. Are the clothes organized by season and/or color? Does your character use hangers or is everything piled on the floor? Perhaps a secret alter is hidden away in the closet, or a stalker collage? Maybe it is so crammed with things that the door barely opens, like that wonderful scene in Mary Poppins when everything comes spewing out of the closet as the door slams shut (or did I imagine that scene). A closet can reveal so much about a character, bringing that character from words on a page to a living, dynamic being that your readers can engage with.

What questions do you ask about your character to gain insight into his/her life?

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Developing your Character through Motivation

July 31, 2010
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Here’s a nice article about character develop. It explains an easy way to ensure that your character develops throughout the story.

via Writer’s Digest – Motivate Your Characters Like a Pro.


Overweight Characters in Children’s Books

January 6, 2010
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Is it wrong to make my overweight characters evil and mean? Is this playing into stereotypes? Is this too much of a cliché? Does this teach children to view overweight people negatively? So often with writing it becomes difficult to see past the works of those whose footsteps we walk in so that we can forge our own path. I worry that I will inadvertently play into the stereotypes created by my predecessors, and that my work will suffer as a result.

Certainly obesity is something that shouldn’t be encouraged in children, but children who are overweight, or those with body issues, may become more self-conscious about their weight if characters physically similar to them are villanized in stories. Equally, the kids who would pick on overweight children may feel their behavior is justified through the negative portrayal of overweight characters in books.

The Harry Potter series instantly jumps to mind when I think about negative portrayals of overweight people. Dudley is fat, unintelligent, and a bully. Malfoy, on the other hand, while evil, is intelligent and conniving. He is also thin.

There are many other children’s books that also portray overweight characters in a negative light. Of course, overweight characters are equally portrayed as jovial, yet simple. Rarely do you see a normal, run-of-the-mill overweight character. Rarely do you see an overweight hero (one of the refreshing things about Disney-Pixar’s UP).

But would we want to write an overweight hero? Aren’t we trying to encourage weight loss and exercise? Do we want children to associate being overweight with being dimwitted and/or mean? Or are we inadvertently excluding an increasing population or readers? According to the CDC, 17% of children in 2006 were obese. This is double the amount found in 1980. With these numbers rising, maybe we should not treat obesity in such a negative way. Certainly we can show an overweight character struggling with their weight, or facing obstacles they would not face were they more fit (again to reference UP : Russell faced obstacles brought on by his lack of fitness), but to make every overweight character less than the fit characters may not be the best message to send children.