What does your picture book character want?

February 12, 2013 at 12:15 pm Leave a comment

I held a very casual, intimate picture book workshop the other day.  It was so enjoyable, hearing the beginning writers read their manuscripts a loud, albeit tentatively.  The stories had merit, charm and a lot of the hallmarks of a good picture book manuscript.  Except they lacked one thing: the main characters didn’t seem to want something enough, whether clearly or at all.  Especially if you are a beginning writer, it’s imperative to know what drives your character, what gives them the joie de vivre, their motivation, their angst? Even if we’re talking about the angst of a duck who everyone makes fun of “The Ugly Duckling,” a boy’s adventure on a fantasy train “The Polar Express,” or a baby bear who’s afraid of the dark in “Can’t you sleep, Little Bear?” there is some kind of conflict that propels the reader forward to root for the main character, to make sure everything turns out okay.

Look closely at your manuscript.  Does your main character have a real motivation or problem(s) free of cliches?  Do the obstacles your m.c. encounters form an arc until the “black moment” or climax, around p. 25 in a 32 pg. book?  Make a 32 pg. dummy with sketches and copy roughly penciled in to see how your story lays out, warts and all.  It will save you time.. and tears.

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Entry filed under: On writing for children.

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