Thursday, March 30th, 2017

Q: Who’s Your Hero? (A: Your Reader!)

Welcome to the first entry in a new blog series on writing books for children!

This series is part of a new e-course and group coaching program I am developing, as well as being fodder for a new book, so your comments here are most welcome and will help me shape the direction of all these offerings.  If you haven’t done so already, please be sure to subscribe to my mailing list (I promise, no green eggs and spam) so that I can let you know when the programs are launched.

And now to the first topic…

Q: Who’s Your Hero? (A: Your Reader!)

When my mother and I first started working on the Dumpy the Dump Truck series, Dumpy the Dump Truckwe needed to come up with a driver for Dumpy. Since the character had to be of driving age, we thought a teenager might be the most interesting for young readers (never mind that our target audience was between the ages of 3 and 5). We presented the first draft to our editor, and she said, “Very nice – but where are the kids?”

She reminded us that a rule of thumb, the central characters in childrens books should be of the same age and spirit as the child reading them. She suggested we convert the teenage character into a little boy the same age as our reader, and add a grandfather who could do the driving. Light bulb! Now we had a central character our readers could relate to, and a bonus extension of our theme of finding value in older things (or people), even after they seem to have outlived their usefulness.

Dragon: Hound of HonorYou’d think we’d have learned our lesson, but we made the same mistake again several years later when writing our first middle grade novel, Dragon: Hound of Honor. Because this was for middle grade readers, and because it was based on a medieval French legend, we thought it was enough to have the knights and ladies (and dog) as our central characters. Once again, our editor said, “Where’s the kid?” We came up with a young page, an apprentice in the castle from whose point of view the story is told, and who happens to be the same age as the target audience for the book.

What we’ve (hopefully) by now learned is that the heroes, or protagonists, of childrens books must be characters that young readers can identify with and relate to. The best way to achieve this when developing an idea is to imagine the specific child or children you are telling this story to.  How old are they? What are their interests, concerns, hopes, fears?  That’s your target audience… and that’s the age, physical and/or emotional, that your principal character should be.

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Comments

2 Responses to “Q: Who’s Your Hero? (A: Your Reader!)”
  1. First of all, I’m so excited about this blog series, and about the chance to be part of a kind of informal focus group for the eventual course.

    As I read this post for the second time, I suddenly thought of the picture book I’m currently trying to get published, and asked myself “Where’s the kid?”… good question. I think about the humor-in-verse picture book I have on the go, and ask myself “Where’s the kid?”… again I draw a blank. OHHHH my, yes.

    Now, some questions that you might consider as you flesh out the e-course (and I certainly hope to be able to take the e-course!) —

    The ideas a) that there needs to be a child as the central character to which the child-reader can relate, and b) one should be very specific in envisioning the children one is writing for, seem (now that I’ve heard them) so important to drum into people’s heads when they’re starting out to write. The questions you have listed to ask oneself about the child/children one is writing for are so good. Does one, by extension, need to have specific real-life children in mind as one is writing? I know you and your Mum focused on Dumpy initially because your son loved trucks… so you were thinking of a specific child whom you knew very well indeed. I tend to write for the kind of kid I was (way back when…) and hope that there are still children like me out there. I wonder if this is a useful or realistic approach.

    Another question that might be fodder for this part of your e-course — someone suggested to me that kids like to read “up”, that is, an 8 year old would like to read about a 10 year old, and think about when they’ll be that age, a 10 year old would like to read about a 12 or 13 year old, and so on. Do you agree with this at all, or do you think it’s better to aim for the actual age of the reader, so that if one is writing for ages 8-11, one doesn’t exceed the 11 year old age?

    Thanks for the opportunity to share these thoughts with you. I’ll be looking forward to the e-course, and I’m scurrying off now to sign up for the non-green eggs and spam (!) mailing list!

  2. Thanks so much for this timely advice, as we head into the 12×12 challenge! It’s good to remember our readers when we craft our picture book…

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