Never mind dogs looking like their owners: it dawned on me this week that a number of my children’s authors are starting to resemble the characters they create – slightly disturbing, since many write about animals, monsters and other strange creatures. Good-looking versions of their creations, of course.
Perhaps I’m hallucinating as a result of mid afternoon blood sugar level slumps, lengthy meetings or the kind of silliness which occurs when spending a long time immersed in children’s books. But it’s not completely surprising – after all, it is often the case that writers imbue their characters with personality traits they themselves possess, so why not physical characteristics, too?
But actually we shouldn’t really know what characters look like – or, at least, descriptions of physical appearance are best avoided. Characters should emerge through their actions – the way they slam the phone down, scowl at the bus conductor or march to the front of the queue (they don’t necessarily need to have anger issues, though). Knowing that she has long curly brown hair just doesn’t bring a character alive in the same way; in fact, I can’t think of any examples where a description of how a character looks works really well.
Am I wrong? Let me know if you can point to a really strong physical description of a character in a children’s book.
The BBC Writer’s Room site offers some other useful tips on creating character. It’s aimed at scriptwriters but can also apply to children’s book writers,