How to Flesh Out Your Children's Book's Main Character

When writing a children's book, it is important that your main character has a driving desire that is apparent to the reader. So how do you let the reader know about your character’s driving desire?

Well, you could spell out this desire in a straightforward, narrated manner. For example, if you were writing Snow White, you could tell the reader: “There was a queen who wanted more than anything to be the fairest in the land.” But you shouldn’t. After all, where’s the drama in that?

What you should do is opt for the more subtle approach in which the reader discerns the protagonist’s core by observing how she behaves and interacts with others. It’s far more captivating for your readers to figure out the protagonist’s driving desire for themselves.

In other words, show the queen in action as she flaunts her hatred by arguing in dialogue with the mirror; dresses up like a witch, and hunts down Snow White and then, with gnarled fingers, offers her the poisoned apple. Finally, show the interaction between the queen and the hunter when she orders him to kill Snow White.

Don’t tell readers the queen is driven by her desire; show how she acts in order to fulfill that desire. Have them hear her argue aloud with the mirror. Get them in that bedroom as she transforms herself into a witch. Make them smell the fresh crispiness of the apple she offers Snow White.

You can help your readers discover your main character’s desire by going through the fleshing out process. Giving your main character a set of physical attributes is important, but what fills out a great character is all the quirks, desires, and emotions that comprise a human being.

Literally, fleshing out is taking the want (the skeleton) and adding the muscles, ligaments, skin, and all the rest to bring your character alive on the page.

Fleshing out involves making your character real, just like the Blue Fairy made Pinocchio a real boy. You build a character bit by bit, making him real by planting clues throughout your story about how the character thinks and feels, by letting the reader hear what he says and how he says it, and by allowing the reader to watch as he interacts with other characters to reach his goal.

Fleshing out is all about what your character does. The old “what you do shows more about who you are than what you say” adage holds true here more than ever.

It’s all well and good if your friend says, “I’ll be loyal to you forever”; it’s quite another to watch her defending you by raising her fists, actively taking your side by stepping over to you, acting loyal by the things she does. Readers need to see your characters doing. It’s what your characters do that makes them memorable.

To flesh out a character, you need to have him lead the way through the basic plot or the action of your story. But if you don’t know him well enough to do that yet, you can do one of two things: You can practice having him talk to another character, or you can make a character bible.

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