Picture Books: What does it mean to be character driven?

Copyright London Scout
What story would you write for a couple of curly girls?  Photo: Copyright London Scout

At Saturday’s conference, Brianne Johnson, senior agent at Writer’s House, gave an absolutely amazing session on character driven picture books.  Yeah, yeah.  We all know what it mean — the character’s personality drives the plot.  On one level, I’m sure you get it.  I know that I did before this session.

The character’s personality somehow puts the plot into action.  This same personality effects every decision that the character makes and every action that she takes.  And it all comes down to some character trait.  Fancy Nancy snazzes things up.  David is a whirlwind force of destruction and things fly apart in his wake. The pigeon?  He wheedles and argues like a three-year-old.

We know this and we use this knowledge when we write.  Every now and again we’re pretty sure that we’ve been successful.

Want to test it out?  Take your amazing character out of the story and substitute Adorable Precocious Child #1.  Adorable Precocious Child is any generic cut, smart, nosey kid.  Put this character in place of your character.

Now look at how your story changes.

What do you mean it doesn’t change?  If your story is character driven, it has to change.  After all, the original story was drven by a character who is no longer in it.  If it is character driven, it has to change when you swap out your character for another.  If it doesn’t, either your story wasn’t character driven or your character was too typical. It’s time to go back to the drawing board and either jazz up your character or rework your plot.

Me?  I’ve got some work to do, but I’d rather figure that out myself than have Bri tell me when I send her my manuscript.



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