Last month we talked about your characters’ voice, a voice that can be a dialect, down-home, pretentious, comedic, somber, personal, or informal. Along with a great voice goes a great point-of-view. I think of point-of-view as two sides of the same coin. One side tells if you are writing in first, second, or third person. The other side tells who is telling the story.
There are some extraordinary points-of-view in children’s books. Study them and they may give you an idea for an unusual point of view for your own story.
Two Bad Ants, for example, is told from the ants' point of view, in third person. I find the voice rather flat and distanced from the action, but it’s a popular book. Allsburg’s illustrations are marvelous, as always. Here’s how Allsburg describes the ants’ moving inside a toaster.
“But as soon as they had climbed inside, their hiding place was lifted, tilted, and lowered into a dark place.”
Diaries of animals are a popular approach in picture books. Doreen Cronin’s Diary of a Worm is told from the point of view of a young earthworm. The reader immediately connects to the spunky little worm.
“Mom says there are three things I should always remember:
Let your imagination fly. You can create a character voice with a doughnut...or a screw. Laurie Keller used a doughnut in Arnie the Doughnut.
“Oh my, Arnie – I thought you understood. That’s why I make doughnuts…for people to eat.”
“I CAN’T BELIEVE IT!” Arnie gasped. “Are the other doughnuts aware of this arrangement?”
Mattia Cerato used a screw in Drew the Screw, with much simpler text than Arnie. Yes, even a screw can be the hero of a children’s book.
I’ve been studying the prolific illustrator Matthew Cordell’s work. It seems he finishes a book every few months! He did the “scribbly brilliant” illustrations for my Lost. Found. Two of his other books are Rooting for You and Leaps and Bounce.
I love the way Rooting for You uses the seed/root/plant as the main voice, moving from “I am NOT coming out!” to “Maybe I’ll stick one little shoot out.” to "I CAN DO IT."Other voices encourage along the way – the worm, ants, bugs, spider, and end with “we were always Rooting For You.”
Leaps and Bounce follow a clutch of eggs on their journey to become frogs. This wonderfully fun story is told in third person, which I think is the best choice as it allows for text like “Dragonflies investigate" and “Who are you speedy zipper-zappers, you cheeky little whippersnappers?” It would be difficult for a clutch of eggs to see dragonflies and to question themselves. But I also see how some parts would be delightful in first person. “Kicking, flicking, splishing, splashing! Clever little divers dashing!” could easily become “We’re kicking, flicking, splishing, splashing! We’re clever little divers dashing!”
When you’re studying picture books, it’s a good practice to think about the other points of views that could have been used. What are the points of view that could have been used in Leaps and Bounce? The dragonflies? The ducks? The pond itself?
The old Naked City closing line was “There are eight million stories in the naked city; this has been one of them.” There aren’t going to be eight million points of view for a story, but I will bet there are more than you'd originally imagine. How many can you think of? Which is the best to tell your story?
Marsha Diane Arnold is the award-winning author of twelve books that have sold over a million copies. Her latest book Lost. Found received three starred reviews, is a Junior Library Guild selection, and was just selected as a Bank Street Best Children's Books of the Year. She enjoys traveling the country visiting schools to share her love of writing and books as well as doing manuscript consultations from her home base in Florida. Find her at www.marshadianearnold.com, if interested.
Her Character-Driven Course is available at http://www.childrensbookacademy.com/writing-character-driven-stories.
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 :)
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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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