What A Character!

Hello everyone, I hope you are staying cool through this mid-June heatwave.

In keeping with the picture book theme this month, let’s explore the very important element of character development. I’ve recently read a couple of helpful blog posts on this subject, which I will share with you. But first, I want to go to one of my favorite guides, Ann Whitford Paul’s book Writing Picture Books, A Hands-On Guide From Story to Publication. In chapter 6, Creating Compelling Characters, Ann writes,

BookWritingPictureBooksPhoto1       “The best characters stay with readers and listeners long after childhood is over. That’s why some books stay in print for generations…






She goes on to list many examples, such as Ferdinand from The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf, Madeline from the series by Ludwig Bemelmans, Frances from the Russell Hoban books, and then brings in contemporary characters like Fancy Nancy created by Jane O’Connor and Ian Falconer’s Olivia. Here are her guidelines for a compelling character:

  • Someone the reader cares about
  • Likable
  • A child, adult or animal who is childlikeOlivia 2
  • Imperfect
  • Someone who behaves in believable ways
  • Active, not passive
  • Able to solve his own problem

But, even though this is an easy-sounding list, the creation of a compelling character takes time, thought and work. Ann Whitford Paul says you must know your character inside and out, even the parts that don’t relate directly to the story. To enrich your understanding and connection with the character, you need to explore all aspects of his personality, his relationship with others, his appearance, desires, etc. She gives questions for you to answer before you can be sure that you’ve created a unique and engaging character.



I read a new post on a blog I follow, Writing for Kids (While Raising Them) by Tara Lazar, and I think you’ll enjoy it. Guest contributor Tammi Sauer discusses some of the same points I outlined above, with pictures and examples. It’s titled How to Create Irresistible Picture Book Characters by Tammi Sauer (plus a giveaway on her book birthday!)




And, of course since we are talking about picture books, the illustrations are every bit as important as the words, when it comes to memorable characters!


Artist Agent Christina Tugeau of CATugeau shares her insights for illustrators on how to demonstrate consistent skills in the area of character development, which was featured on the Directory of Illustration blog and illustrated with images by one of my favorite illustrators, Patrice Barton, who is represented by Christina Tugeau. She points out that a series of illustrations showing sequential action is essential in a good portfolio. It’s also a great exercise for any illustrator; one of the first things an art director may ask from you is  sketches of the main character, in multiple poses and from various angles.

So, happy character development to you — make it real! Please feel free to share your own tips on this subject. I look forward to reading them.



About susandilldetwiler

Freelance illustrator living in Baltimore
This entry was posted in Illustrating & Cover Art Tips, Writing & Drawing Exercises, Writing Tips and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to What A Character!

  1. Thank you, I always enjoy reading these posts!

  2. Pingback: An As The Eraser Burns Goodbye to Susan Detwiler | As the Eraser Burns

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