by Bryan Patrick Avery
In the world of performing magic, nothing can be as rewarding (or as risky) as including a volunteer in your act. Careful attention must be paid to the act of selecting a volunteer from the audience. Choose wisely, and the trick becomes even more magical. Choose poorly, and the effect may not come off as well as you hoped or may even be completely ruined. The same can be true when selecting characters to help tell your story.
I think every writer experiences a moment where a particular character raises their hand and practically begs to be included in the story. It’s our job, just as a magician would do, to determine whether or not they’ll add to the story or detract from it. A great set of supporting characters can help give the story texture, provide organic conflict and even help reveal the qualities of the main character.
A great example of this can be found in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. We meet Harry, living a (mostly) normal life with his aunt, uncle and cousin when he discovers that he is, in fact, a wizard and not normal at all. He is shipped off to a school for wizards (Hogwarts), thrust into a world he knows nothing about, and must face extraordinary challenges just to survive. He is befriended by two students at Hogwarts, Hermione and Ron.
Ron and Hermione are the perfect companions, from a storytelling perspective, because they help move Harry, and the story, forward in a way that feels natural to the reader. Hermione is brilliant, and not shy about sharing what she knows. She able to explain the world of wizards to Harry and, therefore, the reader without the story feeling like it’s bogged down in exposition.
Ron helps in another, also important way. His sometimes fearful or cautious ways helps the reader to see and appreciate Harry’s bravery. Though Ron is clearly more comfortable as a wizard, we have no trouble believing that it is Harry who must save the day.
Another great example of a truly magical cast of characters can be found in Penny Warner’s Agatha Award-winning series, The Code Buster’s Club. Though the story action centers around Dakota “Cody” Jones, the other members of the Club all bring unique perspectives to each story. While Cody is a gifted with languages, Quinn is a video game master, M.E. is a handwriting expert, and Luke is into extreme sports. While they all share a passion for codes and puzzles, Penny has given each character unique skills and characteristics which come into play as they solve mysteries. This adds to depth of the stories and helps pull the reader into the story.
Characterization in picture books is critical. With fewer words to tell the story, the characters must come alive in the illustrations. One of my recent favorites is “The Wrong Side of the Bed” by Lisa M. Bakos, illustrated by Anna Raff. It tells the story of a young girl named Lucy who has woken up in the wrong side of the bed. From the prickly porcupine who wants to snuggle in her bed to the crocodile who borrows her toothbrush, every character Lucy encounters contributes to her one bunny slipper bad day. The story is humorous, and Anna Raff’s illustrations give the characters personalities all their own (there’s nothing like a penguin pillow fight).
Often, the hardest decision when writing a story is deciding what characters make sense for your story. There’s never one way to decide but I’ll leave you with a piece of advice I once heard about selecting volunteers for a magic trick. These hold true for characters as well.
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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