Sunday, November 14, 2010

Making Memorable Characters

I attended our local SCBWI conference this weekend (actually had a chance to participate with my agent, Steven Chudney and agent mate, Kristen Landon on a panel which was a super, uber, amazingly awesome experience but I'm digressing here...)

I really learned some neat things and thought I'd share them with you, my friends.

Priscilla Burris
- the talented SCBWI illustration coordinator -- was there and spoke about her craft.

But, something she said rang true to me as an aspiring novelist.

She asked us to remember our favorite picture books and asked,
What made that picture book memorable?

Was it pippy longstockings braids?

The cat in the hat's top hat?

The way the Grinch tapped his foot constantly?

Those are all parts of the story, yes, but that is not why we connected to those characters.

, it was the voice of the story

the ability to relate to the character...for good or bad
... the way the characters made us think, laugh, or even want to punch them out.

It is the same with all writing.

Sometimes we feel the need to find a "character tell" that identifies the character. That is all well and good -- but we shouldn't think that is what DEFINES that character.

We shouldn't think people will RELATE to that character because they twirl their hair or snap their gum or tap their fingers.
We need to dig deeper and create characters that make people feel things...hope things....understand things.

That is what will make our stories memorable.

Just a tiny order, right? ha!

Tell me: What was your favorite picture book growing up AND why do you think it has stayed with you all these years?


Elaine AM Smith said...

Grandpa by John Burningham and The Green Ship by Quentin Blake are my two favourite picture books but for very different reasons.

Word verification: hyphen - appropriate :)

Wendy Paine Miller said...

For some reason I really liked Frog & Toad--the ordinary way about it.

Maybe I felt pretty ordinary. Cool post and I agree about relating with characters, how it makes 'em stick.

~ Wendy

storyqueen said...

Oh, I do love the Grinch! And Where the Wild Things Are. And I adore Frog and Toad.

But my heart will always belong to Ferdinand.


Tess said...

Elaine: how do I not know of these books? must go to my library today!

Wendy: Oh, I love Frog and the collection when I had kids. Yes, something about the way those characters interact. true friendship.

storyqueen: It is the fact that Ferdinand was unheard as a rock and don't all kids feel like a rock that goes unnoticed sometimes? "see me! hear me!" Yes, a universal truth.

lotusgirl said...

I loved The Five Chinese Brothers. It was one that always captured me. Their plight and the fantastic ways they escaped.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

I have to second Shelley's choices. I love all those. The gentle Ferdinand always touched my heart and taught me it's okay to be yourself.

Mary Aalgaard said...

I did like Pippi. Isn't it Astrid Lindgren's birthday? I think I liked her because she dared to be different, in her looks, her attitudes, and desire for adventure.

Scott said...

Green Eggs and Ham! I have no clue why it was my favorite but, whenever a family member or friend has a baby . . . I buy/give that book.


Susan R. Mills said...

I'd have to say just about any of the Dr. Suess books.

Tess said...

lotusgirl: that book scared me as a child..haha..they were clever but the hunt to get them ...eek!

Tricia: ah, yes.

Mary: she was spunk personified!

Scott: Do you think it is because Seuss broke ALL the rules and still succeeded? You rebel!

Susan: now I'm curious about your rebel side, too :)

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

Trixie Belden! I LOVED her!

Susan Fields said...

The picture book I remember most vividly is Leo the Late Bloomer. I liked it for two reasons:
(1) It was the first book I could read on my own, though I was probably reciting more than reading.
(2) It's the story of a young lion who develops more slowly than his friends. His dad is worried but his mom knows he'll bloom eventually. It's a very reassuring message for a kid!

Anonymous said...

I love Dr. Seuss, though he wasn't in my childhood. I don't remember any picture books from my childhood (I really am that old, born in 1940!). Dr. Seuss is my children's time. Oh, yes, now I remember a picture version of Cinderella. I won it when I was ten in a coloring contest.

I have to re-follow you. Had to do a new blog due to a Blogger glitch and lost my followers. Everything else the same with just a slightly different titles. I don't want to lose certain followers, so here I am. I'm doing catch-up.

Looking forward to your book in 2011!!

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

I don't remember having any picture books when I was little... (Very sad, I know....) The one that always sticks with me is Homeplace. It's about a family taking a hike in the woods. They come across an old homestead and can "hear and see" the people who lived there. It's a great story. I love all the imagination that is used in it....

Amy Holder said...

I just wrote a revision post about the importance of strong character voices. Even if a plot is fantastic, it can fail if the characters aren't interesting.

My favorite picture books (because I can't pick just one) growing up were The Best Nest and Are You my Mother? by P.D. Eastman (I'm not sure why) & anything by Dr. Seuss (because of the fun & rhyming).

Cynthia Chapman Willis said...

Great post, Tess! On Monday I wrote in my blog about my favorite picture books--how coincidental! ha! I don't have just one favorite, but Go, Dog. Go! by P.D. Eastman and The Little Engine that Could were definitely two of my faves when I was a wee one.

Carolyn V. said...

It sounds like so much fun! I'm glad you had a great time.

My favorite picture book? I think it was the one with Grover the monster telling us there was a monster at the end of the book and then realizing it was him. It was so fun. =)