Sharpen Your Characters (A tip from Highlights)

Like all of the faculty members for the Highlights Foundation Writers Workshop at Chautauqua, popular author Juanita Havill has proven experience teaching others to write for children. Juanita’s tip on “staying in touch with your character” is a preview of what you can learn from her this summer at Chautauqua.

“You may think you know everything about your main character. After all, you’ve spent considerable time getting to know her. You’ve written character charts and family history; you’ve made diary entries from your character’s point of view, pages and pages that will never be used in the novel but enabled you to get to know your character from the inside out. Despite this in-depth knowledge, you may make the disturbing discovery, as you progress further into your story, that your character has become vague, generic, has lost her spark. In your rush to get to the climax, you have begun manipulating your character like a puppet and have lost touch with her uniqueness.

“A quick way to reengage with your character is to return to a scene you’ve already written, a tense scene in which your main character is tested, experiences conflict, or acts in a ‘characteristic’ way. The scene may be the ‘mini-crisis’ you used in the opening when your character is outraged that his best friend is moving and determines to run away and join him. Or it may be a scene that demonstrates your character’s foolhardy courage when she defies her swimming teacher’s rules and dives off the high board to garner recognition from a visiting aunt. It may be a quiet scene in which the character is alone and pours out his grief over the loss of a parent. Choose a strong scene that reveals your character and resonates with feeling, and then use it as a reference point. Reread the scene and ponder it, and you will be reminded not only of who your character is but also why you created him in the first place.” —Juanita Havill

About Juanita Havill
Juanita has written seven picture books featuring the popular character Jamaica, most recently Jamaica Is Thankful. Among her nearly forty published books for children are picture books, middle-grade novels, early chapter books, a novel in verse, and a poetry collection. She has also written numerous articles for children and adults. Her historical novel, Eyes Like Willy’s, was selected as a Crown/Lamplighter Honor Book; Just Like a Baby was a Parents’ Choice Award Winner for spring 2009; and Grow, a Novel in Versewon the 2009 Carol D. Reiser Children’s Book Award and the 2009 Santa Monica Public Library Green Prize for Youth Fiction.

About ediehemingway

I am an author of children's middle grade novels and the Regional Advisor for the MD/DE/WV SCBWI chapter.
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