In mid-June I spent a week at the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers conference (WIFYR) and was lucky to spend some time in Ken Baker's writing workshop. Ken is the author of several picture books for children such as Old MacDonald Had a Dragon, Brave Little Monster, and Cow Can't Sleep. His newest, How to Care for Your T-Rex will be released in April 2019.
In his workshop, Ken focused on how writers can create engaging characters. I am sure if you were to list some of your favorite characters, you would find that they harbor some common traits such as persistence, unique talents, compassion, wit, spontaneity, and unpredictability, along with some strong inner conflicts. In Writing the Break Out Novel, Donald Maass says that unforgettable characters whom readers end up talking about for years act in unusual and unexpected ways that are dramatic and irreversible. Characters like Charlie Bucket, Harry Potter and Katniss Everdeen come to mind, along with Olivia, SkippyJon Jones, and Mother Bruce.
A second writing exercise involved comparing two other lists we made. One of admirable or likable qualities of our character versus one of traits or obstacles that are in direct opposition to those qualities. The most surprising outcome of this exercise was that I saw I could actually write my manuscript-in-progress from two different perspectives -- that of the character I was focusing on, or that of the opposing set of characters he was up against. Either way, I saw that I had two equally interesting approaches to one problem, depending on which Point-of-View I wanted to take. And since I am in love with both characters in the story, I was intrigued by this idea.
I'd be interested to hear the results that other writers have with these exercises, as well as any tricks that you use to dig deeper in character development.
Ken has loads of writing resources and information on his website, so be sure to check it out. You can also find him on twitter @KenBakerBooks and facebook https://www.facebook.com/kenbakerbooks/