Are you writing children’s books? In this post, we tell you how to develop strong characters children will relate to in your stories.
Developing characters for children’s books is different than writing characters for adults, or even for teenagers.
We can all remember a character that has captured our attention and imagination when we were young.
Whether it was Winnie-the-Pooh or Piglet, Paddington or Peter Rabbit, or Thomas or Percy, we have loved and cherished them into our adulthoods.
How To Develop Strong Characters Children Will Relate To
Let’s explore how you can develop the same lovable and memorable characters for children’s books in your writing:
1. Create Character Cards
One of the most useful tools for character creation are character cards or worksheets. They will help you remember everything you have imagined about your colourful bunch, and make it easier to imagine yourself in their shoes.
Note down most important facts about your characters on a card. We’d also suggest keeping a separate file on everyone, containing the more minute details as well.
Create a card and file for every character – and not just the main ones. Your supporting cast will need the same attention you’ll soon find.
Bonus points: if you write everything down about your main relationships too, it will be even easier to find your way around the plot.
2. Choose The Right Characteristics & Personalities
Children tend to relate to characters that are brave, kind, smart, and funny. In short, they should be gifted with some admirable traits. However, they don’t relate as well to characters that are exclusively “good”. They need to be flawed to an extent to be fully relatable.
Even if you are setting your story in a magical and imaginary world, make sure the characters (be they human, animal, or made up) have real human traits. These traits should not be black and white. Not even your villains should be pure evil. After all, no one is in real life.
Take the case of Harry Potter and its characters. None of them is actually just bad (no, not even Voldemort!). The main protagonists have plenty of flaws, which makes it easier for children to imagine themselves in their roles. This has certainly contributed to the books’ success.
3. Put Yourself In Their Shoes
When first learning how to write a children’s book, one of the more difficult challenges will be writing from the perspective of a certain character.
Even if you are writing in the third person, you want everyone’s actions and words to be true to who they are. This means you will need to know what every character would be likely to say or do in any given situation.
This will take some time to get used to and master. Don’t get frustrated with yourself if you can’t get someone right off the bat.
A good trick is to try and do some online personality tests as your characters. The Pottermore sorting hat test is a great one, but you can try all sorts of different ones. Look out for what your favourite animal says about you, and so on.
You could even try spending part of your day as a certain character and make decisions based on their traits!
Don’t forget to write down all of the discoveries you make on the character cards. You won’t forget an important detail.
4. Keep Them Age-Appropriate
Remembering which age category you are writing for is incredibly important.
A general rule of thumb is to write characters that are slightly older than your target age group. Children like to read about characters that are a bit ahead in time, as opposed to younger characters or the same age as they are.
For example, The Famous Five were originally aged between 10 and 13 when Enid Blyton published her first novel. However, they are actually targeting an 8+ age group. As the five get older, so do their readers (another trait adopted by J.K. Rowling herself).
Never forget the actual age of your characters at any point in time in your story either. You don’t want your nine-year-old to suddenly adopt the air of a more experienced 13-year-old.
5. Know Their Arc
Before you start developing your story, determine where you want a character’s arc to begin and end. In order for them to be truly relatable, your characters need to go through some kind of change throughout the story. Knowing where you are starting and ending your tale will help a lot in your characterisation.
You will be able to make better decisions for them if you know where they are going to end up, as opposed to making your (essentially their) choices on the fly. You will end up out of character at some point.
Think of Matilda. There is a whole lot of character development for her before and after the novel we get to read. However, Roald Dahl chooses when to introduce us and where to leave us very carefully, providing the lessons of compassion and individuality as well as he does.
The characters we are introduced to as children have the ability to shape us like no character we ever read as an adult. In order to make yours believable, relatable, and allow them to mould your young readers, try to adopt some of the advice we have discussed above. Watch as your young protagonists take on new dimensions.
By Rachael Cooper.
Rachael Cooper is the SEO & Publishing Manager for Jericho Writers, a writers services company based in the UK and US. Rachael has a Masters in eighteenth-century literature, and specialises in female sociability. In her free time, she writes articles on her favourite eighteenth-century authors and, if all else fails, you can generally find her reading and drinking tea!
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If you want to learn how to write for children, sign up for our online course, Kids Etc – How To Write For Children.