Building Character

How are you? What a crazy time we are living in now. I hope you are keeping safe and healthy. That is the No.1 thing at the moment.

Now, on to our subject; building character.

Character development is probably one of my favourite stages in creating a children’s book. It’s fun and exciting. It’s like making a new friend. This practise is used in many industries.

What is a character? And how do you build one?

A character is an entity or avatar we create and give life to by assigning personality, family, friends, quirks, physical appearance, background stories, and many more traits. It’s much like ourselves where we build our own through living life.

Q. What do you use character development for? Please leave a comment 🙂

When I receive a manuscript I like to keep my mind fairly blank and really see the characters develop. I read through the manuscript many times and make as many notes in my sketchbook. Make sure you write them down. You will forget and when that happens it’s not a great feeling. Here is a list of some things I note down:

– What they look like such as hair colour, eye colour, height, age, heritage, scars, freckles, warts etc.

– What they are like as a person; cheerful, sad, worried, have personal problems, strong, popular, bookworm etc.

– What they like; reading comics, apples, flowers, gardening, drawing, riding a bike, eating only the icing and leaving the sponge cake, and so on.

– Family situation; Mother, father, both, none, siblings, uncles, aunts, adopted etc.

TIP: Go deep and give your character as many traits as you can.

Once we have enough notes for each character we make their character profile (dossier) with all characteristics listed. Then we take ourselves to the drawing board and sketch away! In most instances a character’s face is already developing while we’re reading and jotting down their traits so sketching them out isn’t too hard. But I have had very hard ones like the example below, Ella:

My list for Ella was:

– 7 year old girl, long blonde hair, sparkly blue eyes, average height, freckles, caucasian, Dutch and English heritage.

– She’s cheerful, adventurous, imaginative, curious, and makes decisions with her heart.

– She likes to go on adventures in her backyard and in parks, she likes to play dress-up, dance, act silly. She loves flowers and digging in the dirt. She likes plain tomato pasta, no cheese, just a little bit of pepper. She loves stars and the moon.

– She doesn’t like asparagus, green peppers, or mean people.

– She lives with her mother and her adorable little pup. Her dad is in the Reserves so she doesn’t get to see him a lot. But she imagines that she’s on an adventure with him to find each other.

It seemed pretty straight forward but it wasn’t the case. I was looking for a very particular look and style…

I had to find Ella for Ella Saw the Tree. There was a specific brief from the author so I had to take that into account when I was creating Ella. This was the first draft but I wasn’t all too happy with this one so I kept going.
After many, many (many x10) pages and sleepless nights (I really couldn’t stop thinking about her)… It was quite a task! But in the end after all the sweat and tears…
I finally had Ella! I was on top of the world when I found her 🙂

Character development is essential to any story. When you have a detailed character profile it keeps you focused and makes it a lot easier to draw out the book and add elements relating to the character that’s not mentioned in the story. It gives the reader another layer of interaction and connection with the character. We’ll go deeper into that in another article.

Now lets get to work on that character that’s waiting to burst out of your head! “It’s alive!”

Tip: After you’ve found your character draw them from every angle and in different poses. Keep these in their character profile. It makes great reference and takes the guessing game out when you’re drawing thumbnails and roughs for the book 😉

If you’d like to go more in-depth with character development sign-up to one of my workshops. CLICK HERE
! NOTICE: Workshops will resume when restrictions of social distancing have lifted. Thank you for your patients. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about the workshops.

Wait! Some Goss!

Affirm Press accepting unsolicited manuscripts for children’s books on the first Monday of every month. Put this date in your calendar Monday, 6 April 2020!
Due to the pandemic Penguin Australia have closed their submission pages until further notice.