When I learned Jane Yolen and daughter Heidi Stemple were hosting their first ever Picture Book Boot Camp in Jane’s Victorian home in Massachusetts, I said to my husband, “I have to go.” In further explanation: “It would be as if you were an amateur astronomer and found out Carl Sagan or Neil deGrasse Tyson was doing a weekend workshop on the cosmos in their home. You’d have to go.”
My husband, always my supporter, responded, “Of course. You have to go.”
So here I am sitting in Jane Yolen’s attic, writing this blog. The official name of the attic is The Aerie and it’s filled with three writing desks, hundreds of books, scores of awards, and the futon that will be my bed for the next three nights. You probably have to be a children’s writer to understand how magical this is. This is where Jane, called the Hans Christian Andersen of America, wrote many of her over 300 books. It overlooks the woods that inspired her Caldecott Medal book, Owl Moon. I am just going to inhale deeply and hope some of her brilliance seeps into my brain.
Sometimes a writer has to take a break, a little time to breathe. That’s what I’m doing this weekend, along with nine other “campers.” Next month I’ll exhale and share some of my insights about Jane’s camp, but tonight I’ll leave you with three quick ways to help make characters memorable and engaging.
1) Character Names. In my Word program is a folder filled with lists of hundreds of character names. When I hear or read a unique or interesting name, I add it to the list. Recently I met a young boy named Soul. I’m quite sure his name will find its way into a book some day.
Mostly, to find great character names, I simply keep my antenna up, but you can also search through phone books or baby name books. There are name generators on the Internet that can be fun too. Just Google “name generator” and see what pops up.
When you choose a name for your character, fit it to your character’s personality and the style of your story. I’m working on a manuscript (it’s actually one of the two Jane critiqued for me today) that’s a tall tale. My character’s name is Freddie Stufflebean. A name like Archibald Whiting just wouldn’t do.
2) Character Tags
Character tags are a device that helps make your character distinctive. It might be a mannerism, a passion, an obsession, a fear, a hobby, or a way of talking. Rodney Rat, in Hooway for Wodney Wat, pronounces his r’s like w’s, which leads to some serious misunderstandings. His speech endears him to us and helps us to never forget him. In adult literature, an example of a character tag is Zorro’s mask and cape.
A catchphrase is a phrase that’s easy to remember and is commonly used to represent a person, like “Elementary, My Dear Watson” from Sherlock Holmes. In my book Roar of a Snore Jack’s plea to “Stop that snore!” might be considered a catchphrase. It’s repeated over and over in the story. That’s part of what makes a catchphrase, the repeatability. Dr. Seuss’ books are filled with catch phrases. Think “I do not like green eggs and ham. I do not like them, Sam-I-Am.”
Well, “That’s all folks!” (Porky Pig’s catchphrase.)
Next month I will share more stories from Jane Yolen’s attic.
Meet the Friday Blogonauts
First Fridays will feature Bryan Patrick Avery, published writer , man of mystery, and professional magician among other things.
Second Fridays will feature awesome multi-award winning author Marsha Diane Arnold who will be writing about character-driven and/or nature-based books and/or anything she likes :)
Third Fridays will feature independent Aladdin/Simon & Shuster editor Emma Sector who has helped bring many books into the world.
Fourth Fridays will feature the great Christine Taylor-Butler who has published over 70 award-winning fiction and non-fiction and nonfiction books including the acclaimed new middle grade series - The Lost Tribes.
Fifth Fridays will feature the fabulous Carl Angel award-winning multi-published Illustrator and graphic designer.
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