Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Are your characters going nowhere?


It’s a pitfall even in adult books, but in kids’ books, where action is everything, going nowhere can be deadly.

But I don’t just mean walking around for no reason!  Your main character needs motivation; a great reason to get up out of his armchair (or bed, or couch, or floor), and leave the safety of “home “ (wherever that may be) for distant, more exotic, more challenging surroundings.

I’m sure you already know that the main character must solve his own problem.  But it’s not usually enough to have him “think” of a solution… far better if he can arrive there, on his own two feet (or wheelchair, or tank, or tenspeed).  A character who moves is more likely to be a character whose journey moves us (your readers). 

Here are 3 ways to make sure your characters really MOVE. 

1) Give them a mission.

Send your main character on a journey.  Of course, it must be related to the theme of the book:  don’t just send him out for milk.  Every great story revolves around a quest of some sort; your character has to WANT something, very, very badly.  I once read that, for a good enough writer, it’s enough to make him want a glass of water (for the rest of us, make it something a little bigger!).

If attaining the goal of the story is too easy, it’s not interesting for the reader.  So move their cheese, just a little.  Make it close, so close, almost within reach – and then snatch it away.

2) “Kidnap” them.

This is the opposite of the last point.  If the goal is too close, almost within reach – snatch your character away instead.  Don’t invoke some complex deus ex machina machinations (god-in-the-machine; the hand of a god who whooshes in to mess things up, as they did in Greek dramas) to get him there; again, this has to flow naturally from the story situation. 

In kids’ books, we don’t need an artificial deus ex machina – because we’ve probably got parents, or some other grown-up authority figures, who are always maddeningly bossy.  Just when he gets close to his goal – have them take him a little further away.  What kid can’t relate to THAT scenario???

3) Make them curious.

Harold, with his Purple Crayon, is incessantly curious about what adventure he will find next – which leads him farther and farther away from his home.  Of course, that’s okay as long as the adventures are fun (pie!) but not as much fun when things turn serious.  Essentially, he has “kidnapped” himself. 

He realizes that curiosity has led him far from home and bed (his story goal, as it turns out), and he needs to get back there, pronto.  This is a great example because his curiosity led him on a “round trip.”  He actually ends up right back where he started, having had a terrific adventure (and met a moose!) along the way.

You don’t need to use all three of these in your book; things might turn out a bit chaotic if you do.  Pick one or two, and then, keeping your eye on your book’s theme and the character’s goal (what’s he trying to accomplish?), help him get where your story’s going.

Do you have any other ideas to get our characters moving???


  1. Lovely advice. Thanks for stopping by Stanley & Katrina's blog via the Kid Lit Blog Hop. Have a super weekend.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it! Hope to visit your blog again soon. I love discovering new and likeminded bloggers...


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