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Is Your Character as Flat as a Pancake?

Flat pancakes are fine; flat characters, not so much.

Your task as an author is to create compelling, well-rounded characters that children will relate to and care about, thus enabling your story to hold the interest of young readers from beginning to end. You see, kids don’t like flat characters either. Young readers like interesting characters—ones that look and behave just like real kids.


Flat Characters vs. Well-Rounded Characters

What are the differences between flat characters and their well-rounded counterparts?

Flat characters look flat, often appearing expressionless in the illustrations--or sometimes having the same expression on every page and in every situation.

Compelling characters have meaningful expressions that change with each situation that the character encounters.


Flat characters use flat, boring words, and may seem to be too agreeable, always saying things like, “okay” and “me too.” They may go along through the entire story without ever saying anything meaningful.

Compelling characters use meaningful dialogue, with words that reflect their personality. Young readers prefer characters with “attitude.” A compelling character will say things that drive the story forward. Think of Peter Pan's attitude and determination each time he said, “I won’t grow up!”


Flat characters are forgettable. There is nothing unusual or special about them. I refer to them as "ho-hum characters."

Compelling characters have that extra “something” that makes them memorable. It may be the way they dress, their quirky attitude, or anything else that makes them stick in your mind when the story is over. The extreme kindness of Willy Wonka or the mischievous antics of the Cat in the Hat are two characters that tend to stay in our minds, seemingly forever.


How to Round Out Your Characters

Your challenge as a writer is to create characters who are compelling. This is especially important when creating your main character. This is the character who will drive the story forward, so he or she needs a personality and a point of view. You alone have the magical ability to create your own, totally unique being with whatever cute, quirky, annoying, or troublesome attitude you choose. Just be sure to choose the right personality to match the situation depicted in your story.

Creating Your Main Character - How to Begin

First, you must picture this character in your mind. Then create your own answers to the following questions:

• Is my character a person, an animal, or even an inanimate object, like a truck?

• Is my character silly, finding humor in everything?

• Is my character carefree and boisterous? Serious and studious?

• What does my character like to do after school?

• How does my character dress?

• What does my character eat for breakfast?


Then create the answer to another extremely important question:

• How will my character interact with the other characters?


Once you know everything there is to know about your character, bring it to life with a strong voice, a message, and a personality that kids will identify with. Then—Voila! You will have a winner! (Not a flat pancake!)

For more help in creating compelling characters, I have devoted an entire chapter in my new book to this topic.)

How to Master the Art of Writing Children's Books

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