Our stories should be “protein” that grows and changes along with the reader, according to Ms. Yolen. I was fortunate enough to be able to listen to the multi-award winning children’s writer who has penned over 200 books at the local children’s book festival.
Like most kids, I grew up on the PB&J diet. Nearly every day of my school career I gobbled my white bread sandwich with Oxhart peanut butter and grape jelly. Thankfully, naturally peanut butter has improved…in those days the end of the jar resulted in a few dry as sawdust sandwiches.
In my thirties, I still love peanut butter, but my tastes have “refined” some over the years. Now my tastes run towards Molten Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter filling or Chicken Pad Thai from my favorite Thai restaurant.
Now granted my choice of Molten Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter filling probably isn’t the best choice for adding protein to my diet, but when Jane Yolen shared that our stories should “grow up” with us, I pondered favorite stories of my childhood.
One of my favorite children’s books is Charlotte’s Web. As a child I read this book and marveled at the bravery of Charlotte. As I got older I pondered what it really means to be a selfless friend like Charlotte. As a mother myself, I lament the death of Fern’s innocence even as I know such a loss will happen in my own daughter’s life.
At every age and stage, I have delighted in the characters. We groan over the selfishness of Templeton, have a tissue-box moment when Wilbur is told by the sheep of his future fate, and delight in laughing at the antics of all of the animals.
Charlotte’s Web is truly a nourishing read, one from which I gain something new at every stage of life in which I read it.
I also read a certain series of books about teenage babysitters as a preteen. These books were what I would call “twaddle” or idle chatter. We’ve all read and enjoyed these books at times, but is there any sustaining value? And would I gain any new insights into those babysitters if I picked those books up again? I doubt it.
I can only speak for my own experience, but in truly memorable books, it is often the characters that stand out to me.
How can we create memorable characters that will grow with the reader?
1) 1) Give your main character a memorable name.
Characters that we remember tend to have an unusual name or a name with a particular meaning behind it, especially if the meaning is in some way symbolic to the story.
I love using http://www.babynamefinder.com/ to discover new character names.
2) 2) Give your characters unusual characteristics that will be associated with them alone.
We immediately associate Miss Havisham from Great Expectations with her unshakeable obsession to continue to wear her wedding dress many years after her sweetheart has left her life.
Who else but Dr. Watson carries a stethoscope under his top hat?
3) Give your characters an unique voice.
Anne Shirley is known for her excessive prattling and "eloquent" language.
Nick Carraway from The Great Gatsby is a narrator we're never sure we fully trust. He complains incessantly about the other characters in the novel, yet spends all his time hanging around with them.
4) Great characters are "protein" themselves, growing and changing throughout the story.
In the CBA market we are looking for the character to demonstrate growth spiritually and emotionally. A good example of this would be Charity in A Passion Redeemed who undergoes a complete transformation in the hands of Julie Lessman.
Another great example is Morrow from Courting Morrow Little as she progresses and grows to understand the true meaning of forgiveness.
What sets your character apart from all the others out there? Or, do you have a favorite character in literature that has changed and grown with you?