Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Notes on the Character-Driven PB

Although not everyone writes picture books, I believe this information can be helpful with any character-driven story.

Over the past two weeks, I've had my head buried between the pages of character-driven picture books. I've analyzed, studied, and read them over and over again, discovering what makes each main character leap off the page and into kids' hearts. 

For instance, take Pigeon, a spunky & tenacious bird who takes on a life all of his own. Pigeon began as mere sketches (Psst! don't tell Pigeon this!) in the margins of his author / illustrator Mo Willems' notebook, demanding Willems to write about him. 

It's this type of character, which perches on a writer's shoulders, whistling "Yoo, hoo! What about me?" in the writer's ears, who becomes that character, the one who drives a plot forward. Sometimes, these pesky characters not only sit on our shoulders, but they grab us by the hair, jerking our heads all around, until we finally write them.

Don't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late!
Click here to buy
In DON'T LET THE PIGEON STAY UP LATE by Mo Willems, readers get a huge dose of character-driven magic in a tiny package (only 197-words!). I don't want to spoil the story, but Pigeon tries, in hilarious ways, to convince the reader to help him stay up late. Pigeon, although a bird, acts like my girls did when they were five with their feeble attempts to stall bedtime. Too funny! And yes, by the end, I was in love.

In my research of the character-driven picture book, I've learned they should focus on:

- a lovable character children (or silly adults!) can relate to
- one they can fall in love with
- one that never leaves their minds
- a flawed or troubled (at least in some aspect) character
- a character who is active in resolving the story's conflict without the assistance of the adults in his / her / its world
- a character who grows or develops in response to the BIG problem. 
 
Currently, I'm working on revisions with my agent (yippee!) on my character-driven picture book. I've been very hush-hush on the premise of my book and the main character, but my silence only heightens the excitement! I will tell you this...

My main character is flawed-big time
He's lovable-in a weird, quirky sort of way
Memorable? oh yeah
He may deal with a common kid-ish conflict, but his spin on the tale, is like no other.

Only he can tell his story.

24 comments:

  1. I think I skipped the loveable part, but my main character does have flaws!

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  2. A unique journey is the best kind of journey! And it's great to have flaws...superbly awesome characters are just so boring! (Still squee-ing over your offer, btw!!)

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    1. Aw, thanks for all your cheerleading, Randi!!

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  3. If find this stuff so interesting, as I'm not a PB reader/writer myself. I learn so much! :)

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    1. Character-driven is character-driven no matter what genre we write, right? ;)

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  4. I imagine these are really hard to nail in such a short package. Definitely an art!

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    1. Thanks, Nick! I've been meaning to make my way over to your blog. Headed there now.

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  5. I adore the art style on the cover! Too cute and fun. :-)

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    1. Willems does a great job with his illustrations!

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  6. Neat post!

    You know how to keep us in suspense, don't you?
    But more than that, you enjoy it. :P

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  7. I can't wait to see what you've come up with!

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  8. Fascinating! PB's are such a different world to me... that I know nothing about! :D

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    1. The very first thing I ever wrote was a picture book. I've experimented with many genre, and I keep going back to them. Love creating magic in a small package.

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  9. This sounds cute. I think my grandkids would like it.

    Congrats on the agent Candi, and good luck with those revisions. Sounds like you're enjoying the experience.

    ........dhole

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    1. I think most kids LOVE Pigeon. Go to You Tube and watch videos of kids reading the Pigeon books. Delightful. :)

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  10. Congrats again on the agent Candi!

    I just LOVE the attitude of the PIGEON.... What a Character?! I can tell just by looking at him on the cover. I am an illustrator too and I love to see other artist's creations! What fun. I love the cartoon type too. Sometime I wish I drew in that style. My is ULTRA realistic.

    Thanks for sharing and I can't wait to see YOUR creation!

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    1. Willems talks about creating Pigeon with simplistic drawings, mostly so that any 5 year old reading the book can create drawings of Pigeon on their own. He says he receives lots of picture book dummies from children, who've created their own Pigeon book. He says he loves getting them!

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  11. Thanks for all the tips, and your book sounds wonderful. Wishing you (and your Yippie agent Kathleen) much success! :-)

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  12. How exciting that you're working on the revisions to your picture book. Sounds like my kind of book, from the hints you gave us! I LOVE your header. Awesome!

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  13. Great tips for any character driven book. I wish you the best of luck with your revisions. I know they can get tedious at times. Hope you had a great weekend! :)

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  14. @Lexa, thank you!
    @Lynn, wow, thanks! Tara Tyler did the header.
    @Michael, although tedious, I love it. With each revision, it only gets better. :)

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