Sunday 19 August 2012

Getting Inside My Character's Head

In writing fiction for children, getting inside the head of my characters is one of the most important things I can do.

I am definitely a character writer over the plot-driven writer. Don't get me wrong, plot is very important. But to me if my characters are real, solid, and living through me, the plot will come naturally through those characters just because of the type of characters they are.

I write children's books, so I have to immerse myself into the child character just as the child character has to be immersed in me. To do this, I have to remember what it was like to think, act, and talk like a child. Then, go beyond the thinking until I can feel it, taste it, see it, and be in the moment again before I can express it.

The way my child-self  thinks is a lot more fun than the way my adult-self thinks. My child-self says things with a lot more pizzazz. It's also important that I express those feelings or situations that I want to convey in the story in my own words. This is what livens up the prose and makes it stand out and become memorable for the reader.

 Here are some examples of emotions I've used in my own stories:

Excited:  "I had a bunch of jumping, swirling bugs in my stomach that couldn't wait to get out."

Feeling content: "I felt all warm and fluffy, like cake."

Sad: "My heart fell sideways and stayed laying down."

The way a child views a situation is also different from the way an adult would view it.

Here are some examples I've used also:

"I know grandma can fly. She has those flabby, flapping arms that are her after-dark wings."

"The ferns tickled the smaller flowers, making them wiggle and giggle."

"The wind was yelling and being just plain mean."

A writing exercise I like to do to get into my child mode of thinking is to look at things, people, situations and emotions, then write down all the different ways to express it with originality. Then try to express it simpler and with more innocence, just as a child would. The longer I think about it and the more I write down, the better the expressions become. The more childlike I become.

So when my friends call me immature (which they all do, believe me), I take it as a good thing, a compliment, and an affirmation that I can do my job as a writer of children stories.


  1. Diane, you are definitely, positively, most assuredly immature! Congratulations!

    Please, tell me, what is the secret to getting to the immaturity needed to write a great children's book. I read the post, but there feels like something was left out. Maybe it is the forest you own that helps to nurture your characters and allows them to show themselves (not tell).

    Do I need to find my own forest, or maybe a dog park since I am writing about dogs?

    1. The secret to being immature is that it take practice. And the best advise I have is: say your friend sends you a ridiculous and immature questionaire, oh say about your favorite number or favorite chocolate bar or color. Immature stuff like that. You should probably participate in that questionaire to start practicing on your immaturity skills.

      A dog park would also help you if you really want to get immature and go act like a dog.

    2. Thanks, that's pretty god advice. If I ever have an immature friend send one of those immature questionnaires, I will answer it immaturely and send it back. I need to find some immature friends first. Know of any? ;-) Preferably immature author-types.

  2. Love all the new illustrations.

  3. Wonderful post, Dianne. The best thing for me about children is their perpetual wonder. To them, the entire world is new, sensual and exciting, full of surprises and magical possibilities. After all, if we can turn a tiny, hard, dead-looking seed turns into a delicious carrot simply because by sticking it in the dirt, is anything impossible?

    1. You are so very right, Eileen. May the wonderment of childhood never leave our souls. I wish you the very best in your writing career. (Eileen Schuh writes Y.A. Fiction and lives in the same town as I do).