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Building Characters Children Will Connect With

Imagine back to when you were a child, getting lost in the pages of a book, feeling like the characters understood you in a way no one else did. Think of how you were transported to magical lands, solving mysteries, and overcoming challenges alongside characters who felt like your friends. This is the power of building relatable characters, and in this week’s issue, I'll show you how to create characters that kids will connect with.

It's crucial because children often see themselves in characters they can relate to. This connection forms a deep emotional bond between the kid and the story, making the reading experience richer and more memorable.

Unfortunately, some authors don’t know how to do this.

Fear of Unoriginality

What I’ve seen is that some authors worry that their characters won't stand out or be memorable enough, so they avoid creating characters that might seem too ordinary or relatable. They might fear that by building characters who face common challenges or exhibit typical traits, their stories will lack originality and fail to capture readers' attention. This fear can lead authors to create characters who are overly unique, which can actually make them less relatable to their audience.

However, it's important to remember that relatability doesn't mean blandness. By infusing your characters with unique personalities, quirks, and perspectives while still making them relatable, you can create memorable and engaging characters that resonate with readers.

Here's a step-by-step guide on how to create relatable characters. Let's take Matilda Wormwood from Roald Dahl's "Matilda" as an example.

Step 1: Know Your Audience's World

The first thing you need to do is to understand who your readers are and what they care about. What are their age, interests, and emotions? What are their challenges and dreams? This will help you create a character that they can relate to and root for.

Example: Matilda is a perfect character for young readers (age 5-10) who feel misunderstood or underestimated by the adults in their lives. She is a five-year-old genius who loves reading and learning, but her parents are ignorant and mean. She uses her intelligence and creativity to stand up for herself and others, inspiring kids to do the same.

Step 2: Dig into Your Character's Past and Present

The next thing you need to do is to give your character a rich backstory and a vivid personality. What are their family, friends, and experiences like? What are their strengths, weaknesses, and quirks? What are their goals, fears, and motivations? This will help you create a character that is complex and realistic.

Example: Matilda has a sad and lonely past. She lives with her parents who neglect and abuse her. They don't care about her education or happiness. They only care about money and TV. Matilda has no friends or allies, except for her kind teacher Miss Honey. Matilda has a strong and playful personality. She is smart, curious, and brave. She also has a sense of humor and a sense of justice. She likes to prank her parents and the evil headmistress Miss Trunchbull. She also has a secret power: she can move things with her mind.

Step 3: Make Your Character Come Alive

The last thing you need to do is to show your character in action and in dialogue. How do they look, talk, and behave? How do they interact with other characters and the environment? How do they change and grow throughout the story? This will help you create a character that is memorable and engaging.

Example: Matilda is a lively and charming character. She has messy pigtails, knobby knees, and a mischievous smile. She speaks with a sophisticated vocabulary and a witty tone. She acts with confidence and courage, even when facing bigger and stronger enemies. She uses her telekinesis to pull off amazing feats, such as making a chalk write on a board, a glass tip over, or a girl fly in the air. She also uses her power to help her friends and teacher, and to escape from her parents. She becomes happier and more powerful as the story progresses.

Step 4: Show, Don't Tell

Don't just tell your readers what your character is feeling or thinking. Show them through their actions and reactions. How do they behave in different situations? How do they change and grow as the story progresses? This will make your character more realistic and engaging.

Example: "Matilda" is not a story about a girl with telekinesis. It's a story about a girl who learns to value kindness, friendship, and justice. We see this through Matilda's journey, as she goes from being lonely and unhappy to being confident and happy. She also learns to control her power and use it for good.

Step 5: Mistakes & Lessons Learned

Nobody is perfect. Your character should make mistakes and learn from them. This will make your character more relatable and empathetic. It will also show your readers that everyone can grow and improve.

Example: Matilda is not a saint. She can be impulsive and have a temper. But she also has a good heart and a sense of humor. She learns from her mistakes and uses her intelligence and courage for good. She inspires us to do the same.

Remember, the goal is not to avoid common traits but to infuse them with unique personalities and experiences that make them truly memorable. By following these steps, you can create characters that kids will connect with and stories that will stay with them long after they've turned the final page.


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