Boy and Bot just rolled by in the wagon. Cub and the girl are playing cookie tag and keep dropping crumbs on my keyboard.
And Wolfie wants another carrot—and is drooling all over my arm.
Excuse me a moment, will you?
CAN YOU GUYS PLEASE SETTLE DOWN FOR FIVE MINUTES SO I CAN GET THIS POST DONE?!
Sorry about that. Where were we?
Oh, yeah. Seven Tips For Creating Really Really Real Characters.
Tip #1: Hey! I Know You!
This one’s a tip and an exercise in one! A… tixercise!
Okay, that totally didn’t work. But this will:
Grab a piece of paper.
Bot, hand me our errands list, will you? I’ll write on the back. Thanks!
Put your character’s name at the top.
Now write down everything you know about them so far.
Yes, EVERYTHING! Everything you can think of, even if it’s something minor or goofy or you think it’ll never make it into their story.
Don’t edit. Don’t censor. It’s no-wrong-answers brain purge free-for-all time!
For example… Cub cries at Hallmark commercials on televis—OW!
NO POKING, CUB!
Keep this character profile page and add to it each time your character reveals something new.
Like really sharp little claws, for examp—OW!
Tip #2: Earlier…
What happened in your character’s day up to the point where their story starts? When and how did they wake up? What did they have for breakfast?
Did they follow the rules?
“PPPBHT!” yourself, girl! KNEW you were peeking at this! HA!
What was their status quo before their status quo shifted?
Again, even if it never makes it into your story, you gotta know this about your character.
So ask them.
Tip #3: Relatively Speaking
Master Maurice Sendak said the wild things in his WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE were inspired by his aunts and uncles.
Families are fascinating—say, for instance, a baby wolf adopted by bunnies—flawed, and fabulously FUNNY!
So at your next kinfolk shindig, potluck, or bail hearing, take a long look at your clan and ask yourself:
Which of your relatives is a real character?
Who deserves to be one of yours?
Now, immortalize them.
Tip #4: Quirky Before Qwerty
Quirks—we all got ’em.
Your character does, too. So don’t let them be shy about telling you what theirs are.
Mannerisms, superstitions, catch phrases… does knowing and showing these wonderful peculiarities make your character more real?
(Y’all knew I was gonna say that!)
Time to think succinctly—uh, short. Time to think short!
Sum up your character in ONE word.
(No, you can’t use hyphens! Points for tryin’, though. I’m secretly impressed by your rascally rule-bendin’ self.)
Got your word? Great! Next—
Oops. One sec.
Boy, can you get me a drool towel for Wolfie? He’s like a FAUCET here! Thanks!
Okay, take your word, like… “helpful,” and look up all the synonyms for that word.
Now you have a list of words—
BOY! WATCH OUT FOR HIS TEETH!
—and even phrases (such as, “willing to lend a hand”) that describe your character, but with subtle little nuances.
Descriptive words that might describe how a character changes—slightly, realistically—through the arc of a story, right?
YAY! Hope you found this beneficial. Or useful or valuable or advantageous.
Tip #6: What’s The Scoop?
Oh, how I love this one! Ready?
If it’s not already on your character profile sheet, what kind of ice cream is your character’s favorite?
I’m serious. (What? It happens… occasionally.)
Knowing what kind of ice cream your character likes best says volumes about them. There’s a big ol’ difference between a single-scoop of vanilla character and a triple-scoop Chocolate Overkill-Pistachio-Swedish Fish character, right?
Don’t worry if your character can’t actually eat ice cream.
Talking to YOU, Bot! You sounded funny for a week!
Ahem. It’s the would that counts. Not the could.
Stumped? You need field research!
Go to your local ice cream parlor, get yourself a scoop… and secretly notebook all the other customers’ ice cream choices, too!
Does their ice cream pick seem to pair with their personality? What would you have expected them to order instead? What would your character have ordered from the choices offered? What would they have asked for as a special request?
Who says writing homework can’t be fun?
Tip #7: I Believe In Characters! I Do! I Do!
My most important tip for creating really really real characters is…
You need to believe that they are.
Then your readers will, too.
That’s it. Beautiful in its simplicity, ain’t it?
Okay, gang, it’s been a blast, but I gotta go run errands. We need oil, a new wagon wheel, cookies—
WOLFIE! WE DON’T GNAW ON THE SOFA!
—and carrots. Lots and lots of carrots.
Read, write, and rock on, everybody! Can’t wait to read your books!
AME DYCKMAN reads and writes picture books when she’s supposed to be sleeping. She’s the author of the award-winning BOY + BOT (illustrated by Dan Yaccarino) and TEA PARTY RULES (illustrated by K.G. Campbell). Ame’s next book, WOLFIE THE BUNNY (illustrated by Zachariah OHora), hops into bookstores February 17, 2015. Ame lives in Lawrenceville, NJ, with her family, her evil-but-adorable cat, and her book characters. Follow Ame on Twitter (@AmeDyckman), where she Tweets picture book reviews and pretty much everything that pops into her head.
Amy is giving away signed copy of TEA PARTY RULES and a prize pack. Comment on her blog post to be eligible to win!
Registered for Summer School? Check out Ame’s fabulous writing exercise in the exercise book.