One of the reasons I love writing for young readers is because I get to come up with fun characters. But coming up with fun characters is not as easy as it sounds. You have to travel way out of the box if you want to enchant your readers, so having a wild imagination helps. But there really is a process in developing fun characters.
What works for me is first looking around in your mind the area you want your story to take place. When I wrote The Secret World of Farallon, I had to look in the ocean and be aware of what was going on out there. I actually didn’t have a clue about what goes on in the ocean, which essentially allowed me to use my imagination to create a world under the sea that wasn’t hindered by what was actually happening down there.
The first thing I did was think of some kind of fish that was genuinely harmless, and yet everyone wanted to avoid. I thought about the human world and homeless people came to mind. Most people try to avoid them because they are typically perceived as dirty and un-kept. Most people don’t want to hear about what made them homeless, or how they can help them. Many people just find it easier to avoid them all together and pretend they don’t exist.
Then I started thinking about what it was that caused this poor fish to be so undesirable. So I thought of some kind of a cute critter that we have on land that sends people running in the other direction. Have you ever noticed how cute a skunks eyes are? Probably not, since you are only looking at the black coat with the distinctive white stripes running down its back. Cool! I wonder if there was such a thing as a “Skunk Fish.”
I did come research and there it was. Actually there are many types of skunk fish but I wanted to keep it simple so I chose the one that looked like a little gold fish with a single white line running down its back from the tip of his nose to the end of his tail. I also learned that skunk fish don’t actually stink. They are just called a skunk fish because of its markings.
Then I incorporated that whole image into my story in The Secret World of Farallon by introducing the skunk fish that Farallon was trying desperately to avoid because of his stinky reputation. Since the other main character, Eric, had never encountered a skunk fish before, he had no preconceived ideas of why this little fish should be avoided.
Naming this little fish was fun too. I did more research in my trusty thesaurus and looked up any word that had to do with smells, fragrance or aroma and I came up with Redolent. Now my new skunk fish as a new name…Redolent. Perfect!
The more fun you have in doing the research and putting a lot of thought into your characters makes a huge difference in your writing. The more fun you have developing your characters, the more fun your readers will enjoy learning more about them.