Do you do character sketches when you write a picture book? Or is it something you disregard since your target word count may well be shorter than the character sketch itself?
That’s how I used to feel. I’d like to say that I changed my mind when an editor put me on the spot. I was attending a small writers retreat. With less than 20 participants, we had a good deal of face time with the editor. Time for her to ask questions.
“You did do a character sketch, didn’t you?”
I shrugged. “I know a lot more than is in the manuscript.”
She didn’t buy it. “I’m not sure you know enough.”
Fine! Fine! I thought. I’ll do the stupid character sketch. Obviously this manuscript needs it. Thank goodness they don’t all need them.
For a while, the only picture books I wrote were nonfiction. Then, I hit on a great idea for a fiction story. I whipped it up and took it to my critique group, warning them that it was really rough as in first draft. This was just different enough from my regular work that I needed to have some clue if it worked on any level whatsoever.
They liked it but they asked a lot of questions. Questions about motivation. Questions about what role one of the characters played. Could I just do away with him?
I knew I needed all three characters but I also knew I hadn’t done my job. A character sketch of each main character would have helped me shore up what about each one was unique. I could then work telling details into how they speak, how they move and what their preferences are.
Maybe next time I’ll be smart enough to do it just a bit earlier.
We can always hope.