Invisible: How to Characterize a Group

First my review of a most excellent middle grade graphic novel. The tag says it all – how can you be yourself when no one sees the real you?

Think of this as a Latine Breakfast Club. Five students who need their service hours are assigned to work together in the cafeteria. Why? Because they are all Mexican and one student is expected to translate for the group.

The problem? He speaks only rudimentary Spanish. And he’s Puerto Rican. But that’s okay, the others are Cuban, Venezuelans . . . oh, you get the point. The adults have lumped these kids into a single group. It is up to them to figure out who they want to be and what that means.

Excellent book! I would highly recommend it for classroom and library shelves. And, if you have a young reader struggling to figure out who they are, pick up this book for them as well.

Whether you are writing middle grade fantasy, ala Harry Potter, or a chapter book mystery, shades of the Boxcar Children, each character within your group needs to be unique. This point and how to do it were driven home by Invisible.

First things first, you need a spokes character. This character isn’t always going to take center stage but this character will often be the one doing the talking. In this case, it is because the principal appointed George as the group spokesperson. And the name alone indicates 90% of the problem. He goes by George, not Gorge. He’s 100% American even if that isn’t how everyone sees him.

Next you need to come up with ways to make each of your other characters unique.

  • The seated girl is Sara. She is a quiet loner who actually has a lot to say. She’s the only one who is both a good student and fluent in both English and Spanish.
  • Standing beside George is rich Niko. Everyone thinks he has it made but he’s struggling to fit in even as his parents try to make it to the US to join him. His housing situation is rocky and he worries about becoming homeless.
  • In the back are Miguel and Dayara. Miguel’s dad wants him to focus on baseball, but Miguel wants to focus on art. Dayara acts like a tough but she’s having troubles learning to read English, yet she’s willing to take the fall for her friends.

Even if you think of your characters as “the gang,” you need to find a way to make each one unique. Each needs to have their own voice and their own goals, separate from the group. Once you’ve figured that out, you can figure out how they will work together. Me? I’ve got some thinking to do.