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How to Write Children's Stories with Two or More Characters

Many beginning children’s book writers are told never to try to write a story with two or more main characters unless they have a lot of experience doing so. Although that is sound advice for some writers, every new writer doesn't need to be constrained by this dictate; however, make sure that your characters stay distinct and different from one another:

  • Create a character bible for each main character. Make sure to flesh out attitudes, manner of speaking, and any other small details that set each character apart from the others.

  • Write out how each of your characters would behave when faced with a choice that compromises the character no matter what he or she chooses — then use this example to continue fleshing out your character.

    For example, what if Main Character #1 is caught with a forbidden item in her locker that is not hers, but she knows whose it is? What does she do? If she tells, she will lose her best friend. If she doesn’t, she will get expelled. Whichever she chooses, she suffers, but readers know more about her. Use the same situation to help define each main character’s core.

  • Consider limiting your story to two main characters, perhaps one of each gender. That helps you to draw differentiations and flesh them out while lessening the chance that they will start sounding or acting alike.

  • Consider making the background of one of your main characters very different from the other. For example, if Main Character #2 is a recent immigrant from India, his cultural background and experiences will inform not only his actions, but also the way he speaks.

    Or what if one of your characters is a foster child, raised by many different families, attached to no one? Add something to make her really distinct to differentiate her in your writing.

  • Tape up a picture of each character so that you can really picture him or her in your mind. If you aren’t the best artist, try cutting out photos from magazines or other sources that inspire you. Perhaps assign an actor or a celebrity to each of your characters.

  • Use people from real life as inspiration. Your best friend, a close relative, a co-worker, someone you like or dislike — use that person as the framework for your character. You may even want to use that individual's name in the manuscript until your very last editing, when you change it to protect the innocent — or not so innocent.

  • Make sure when each character speaks, he or she doesn’t sound like every other character. For example, if you have one character who is talkative to the point of never coming up for air, make sure your other characters don’t possess this particular attribute.

Do not use character names that sound alike or that start with the same letter or phoneme — unless, of course, you’re okay with your reader being very confused.

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