Monday, May 19, 2014

What Makes a Great Picture Book - Tip 1

Larger than Life Characters

Characters can make or break a picture book. Donald Maass, literary agent and author of WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL, talks about the importance for novels to have larger-than-life-characters. These are characters that act in unusual, unexpected, or dramatic ways. These are characters that do or say things that we wish we could do, but don't ever dare  to do or we are not able to do.

Larger-than-life-characters are not only important for novels, but they’re important for picture books too. Think PETE THE CAT, OLIVIA, CURIOUS GEORGE, and NO, DAVID. The characters in these stories are what make children want to read them over and over again. Want to write a great picture book? Start with a larger-than-life-character at its heart. The characteristics of larger-than-life-characters might include wit, spontaneity, compassion, daring, quirkiness, perseverance, cunning, humor, likeability, and so on.

Developing larger-than-life-characters is just one of many things I’ll be discussing from June 16-20 in the Picture Book Writing workshop I’ll be teaching at the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers (WIFYR) conference in Sandy, Utah. There are still a few slots open if you're interested.


  1. Great tips! I write picture books and novels. I have three PBs published: WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE?, THE MISSING KEY and SANTA'S SECRET. I love writing kidlit.

    Nice to get acquainted with a fellow kidlit author!

    1. Beth, thanks! Good luck with your writing

  2. I wanna bet that the characters in the books above where all based on real people or animals from the author's life. i guess it's that old cliche "write what you know" — people want to read something that feels real, they want a hero, but that hero has to have flaws too. And like you said the characters must be complex: they should be spontaneous, daring, funny, clever, and so on :)

  3. My personal favourite of those has got to be Olivia - she's strong and opinionated, but quirky enough in her tastes that parents can really get into her as well. Thanks for this - sometimes restating the obvious is exactly what we need. :-)
    Write Kids' Books

  4. My children's book series features a troll named Hamilton and I'd like to think he is larger than life. But in reality he is small, shy and scares easily. But he, like children, is learning how to make friends, exploring new things, is eager to engage and enjoys having fun and making friends. I made him someone children can relate to and I think so far, that has paid off.