Peg366's Blog

#kidlitchat On, Tuesday November 9, 2009

Posted on: November 12, 2009

On #kidlitchat last night, there was great conversations about attributes that make a character a memorable character and what techniques writers use to flesh out their characters. Be sure to check out the transcripts if you missed the chat  at Co-hosts Bonnie Adamson and Greg Pincus always post them.

For those authors that create Mid-grade and Young Adult novels answers like giving a character depth, giving them a flaw, and making them seem realistic made sense. Someone suggested using a character sketch to list everything about a character before putting the words to paper/computer.

Mind you, I really enjoyed the fast and furious chat with so many wonderful comments and suggestions.

As I listened and learned, I found myself wondering what about picture book writers. With word counts under a thousand and even lower in most cases, how do those writers make their characters come to life.? I would love feedback on this from other picture book writers on this topic.PegFinley_pic

I posted a request for imput by other pb writers to this question. This is where comments can be left.


7 Responses to "#kidlitchat On, Tuesday November 9, 2009"

Good question!

I was at a workshop recently where this came up — how to establish character in just the first few words of a picture book.

One answer: it may be okay to tell, rather than show, if you don’t overdo it. What a relief!

Here’s an example, the first two sentences of Bonny Becker’s Golden Kite Award-winning A Visitor for Bear:

“No one ever came to Bear’s house. It had always been that way, and bear was quite sure he didn’t like visitors.”

In a longer work, we would have shown how happy Bear was alone, maybe listed all the things he enjoyed doing by himself. But Bonny Becker’s second sentence sets up the situation much more quickly.

Here’s another example, from Peter Brown’s popular Chowder:

“Chowder had always been different.”

Or the first line from a classic, Leo the Late Bloomer:

“Leo couldn’t do anything right.”

In a picture book, of course, you also have the option of allowing the illustration to establish character. One of my favorite examples is from Olivia Saves the Circus, by Ian Falconer.

“Before school, Olivia likes to make pancakes for her new little brother, William, and her old little brother, Ian.

This is a big help to her mother.”

The illustration shows angelic Olivia with a self-satisfied smile on her face, and the kitchen in an absolute mess behind her. We know right away that Olivia is a resourceful child of good intention, who is totally oblivious to the havoc in her wake.

Sorry for the long-winded response–I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately!


That is great. I’ve been thinking about this since #Kidlitchat last week. Those are great examples of what I was looking for. As always you are so helpful.

My concern about letting an illustrator help with getting my character to come to life is that I have to be good enough as a writer to attract the attention of an editor before an illustrator’s skill even come into the picture. God, how I wish I could have those skills.

What are you working on right now? I’m trying to get some revisions done while the house is quiet. The kids and I will get all the leaves in the yard cleaned up once they are up and around. No school today, so we all slept in a little.

It’s my weekend with no kids, so I try to use that time wisely. I have one or two ideas that popped in the PiBoIdMo challenge that I want to work on, too.

Have a great day.

This also came up in the same workshop–gosh, I wish everyone could have been there! It was a revision workshop led by Cynthea Liu, who is SUCH a ball of energy, and SO insightful–puts her finger right on the problem areas, and then helps you brainstorm solutions.

Anyway, I agree that this is a problem. I’m starting to submit pb text only for some of my ideas that I don’t think I’m the right illustrator for, and it’s terrifying! The language is key, of course–don’t you love Bonny Becker’s “quite sure”?
Cozy but cranky in two words!

As for leaving it up to the illustrator: sometimes you just HAVE to insert an art note–again without overdoing it. In the Olivia example, I think it would be perfectly okay to put, in brackets: kitchen is a mess.

Happy writing in your quiet house this weekend!


This is just what I wanted to do. I love the dialogue here. I just read Tara Lazar’s comments on Twitter and I really think your imput on a blog would be super.

I sounds like that was a great workshop and I’ll be sure to take anyone that Cynthia has.

I had heard that many editors don’t really care for illustrator’s notes but if it was kept simple it might just work.


Yes, I have heard the same thing, but I think, realistically, if the sense of the text is going to depend on the illustration, you MUST find a way to say so. Cynthea said just to avoid notes that aren’t essential to the understanding of the story.

I think I’ll leave the blogging to you fabulous and brave veterans for now. Thank you for providing a forum for those of us who haven’t taken the plunge yet!


Bless your heart. You’ll join us someday but for now I will do my best to be a good blogger.

Thanks for all your support.


[…] #kidlitchat On, Tuesday November 24, 2009  9EST-6PST and some stick around a little longer and chat. Join Co-hosts Bonnie Adamson and Greg Pincus and others, including me, as we discuss a topic relevant to children’s writers and illustrators. […]

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I am an aspiring picturebook writer with some magazine credits just no picture book contract yet. I know it is coming and I am more than willing to work for it.

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July 2009

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I love the children's movies Wizard of Oz and the Neverending Story. Both movies make me feel the lesson that hope is alive and well. After seeing UP this past week, it just might have a chance at being added to this list.

I love the cool colors of blues and purples.Those colors are peaceful for me.

I love The Velveteen Rabbit. Even as an adult, I still feel the urge to cry when he becomes real. I know, silly, but a good book can make me laugh and cry as it takes me on a magical journey.

Authors and Illustrators:

Authors, Author/Illustrator, Illustrators that I know and/or Like.


C= Children

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Bonnie Adamson *

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Favorite Websites:

Favorite Blogs:

• ShelfTalker: A Children’s Bookseller’s Blog
• Alice’s CWIM Blog
• A Fuse #8 Production
• Cynsations
• Nathan Bransford – Literary Agent
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• Writing for children and teens

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