Marsha Diane Arnold on Character-Driven Books
Character-driven picture books are what I’ll focus on. I’m comfortable here for three reasons: I recently completed creating the self-paced Writing Wonderful Character-Driven Picture Books e-course for the Picture Book Academy, my books are known for engaging characters, and I adore quirky, eccentric personalities (some people might even describe me that way :).
Environmental picture books will have a supporting role. If you’ve seen my emotional Facebook posts about black-footed ferrets and other animals or read my writing on my earthsvoices blog, you know I’m a nature and animal lover.
Back to our character-driven book of the month. An important element to writing character-driven stories is to have them revolve around 3 P’s: Problem, Passion, and Personality. If your character has a problem, but no passion to solve the problem, then the story’s not going far. But if the character is passionate about solving his or her problem, you’ve started our engines. The personality of the character also factors into the story. The type of personality your character has directs the manner in which the problem will be solved.
The Strawberry Snatcher has a passion – strawberries. He also has a problem. He doesn’t have any! The Grey Lady has those bright red, luscious, fragrant strawberries in her basket.
The other character in the story is the elderly Grey Lady who, soon after purchasing the basket of strawberries, realizes she also has a problem. She’s being followed by the Snatcher. She runs onto a bus, but the Snatcher follows her on his skateboard. He snatched that too, from the lady he ran into! The Grey Lady’s passion, if we follow the story to its end, is to share the strawberries with her family. That’s a strong incentive for getting the strawberries home safely.
Immediately we see how the characters are driving the action. The Grey Lady bought something that the Strawberry Snatcher wants. The Snatcher tries to grab the strawberries and a chase ensues. The reader wonders what will happen. Will the Grey Lady get away with her precious purchase or will the Snatcher steal the bounty? An exciting chase ensues into the mysterious forest where the Grey Lady all but disappears…into grayness.
The Grey Lady and the Strawberry Snatcher is a unique picture book. It is wordless, it has two main characters, and in many ways we care about both of them. We want them both to have their berries and in the end you will see that they do. But the Snatcher discovers a new kind of berry. Perhaps we also have a little lesson about readers trying new foods here.
Truth be told, I never really liked the Strawberry Snatcher or the Grey Lady, who would not share one measly strawberry with the snatcher. But I did find them intriguing, enchanting in a mysterious, other-worldly way. I have found most fans of Lily like her very much indeed and would follow her around the world in a heartbeat. The readers often say, at least subconsciously, “I know how that cow feels. I once felt different from my friends.” They relate.
How does Lily’s personality drive the type of action in the story? When a magazine flies into the pasture, filled with photos of dancers, I have already set her up to go find them. If Lily was too shy or too unsure of herself, she would never have left the pasture. Her personality assures us that she will.
Whether writing a picture book manuscript or creating a wordless book, remember the 3 P’s your character requires: passion, problem, and personality. If you have those, your readers enjoy following your character and will, perhaps, even want to be their friend for life.
Please read Molly Bang’s story behind her story. It’s a tale of rejection, hard work, perseverance, and patience, and…a bit of serendipity. It’s inspiring how she continued after the great and powerful…and wonderful…Ursula Nordstrom “scolded” her. But she did and she has a Caldecott Honor Book to show for it. Remember her story on your own writing pathway.
Marsha Diane Arnold is an award-winning children’s book author with a heart of gold. Besides writing, she enjoys visiting schools internationally, nationally, and through Skype, sharing her love of books and writing through presentations and writing “funshops”. In 2008 Marsha was honored as one of seven artists invited to be part of Sequoia National Parks Foundation’s Artists in the Back Country, the only children’s author ever invited. The program’s goal is to rekindle the American tradition of enhancing public appreciation of our natural world through the arts. She shares her adventures in the high Sierras at www.earthsvoices.com
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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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