Okay, so it's time to launch into my brand new feature, STORY ELEMENTS, that I began last Monday. Today's focus will be on Story Element #1: Character, as seen through the lens of Jon Sciezka's Baloney (Henry P.).
Since this is the first post of this new series, I feel it fitting to define character, first and foremost. Each time I post another CHARACTER entry, I'll try to provide more knowledge about how to create dynamic characters in our writing.
Definition: In fiction, the person you write about is considered the main character. Webster's New World Dictionary def. #8: "A person in a play, novel, etc." In picture books, there are still secondary characters, but not as many as in novels.
Sometimes there is also a villain (more on that when we reach 'conflict'). Without a character, even if it's the horrid inanimate object (rarely is it done well and no editor ever asks for it), there would simply be no story. Every story must begin with a character. The picture book, Patches: Lost and Found, has a teacher who teaches that every story must begin with the words, but the main character teaches her teacher that sometimes stories can begin with the pictures first and not the words. Perhaps a story could begin with a setting or a vague idea of plot, but before it ever becomes a story, you must add a character!
Characters must be:
- solves own problems
Author: Jon Scieszka
Illustrator: Lane Smith
Publisher: Viking (Penguin Putnam)
Today's example is Henry P. Baloney. He's likable because we feel for him for being late. He's childlike because he gives outlandish excuses. He's also imperfect because of the excuses. He's believable because of the excuses. He's active in his storytelling and active in what his story conveys. He also solves his own problem.
Henry P. isn't just a bunch of baloney, he's a cute little alien school boy. In order to avoid "Permanent Lifelong Detention" the teacher says he must provide "one very good and very believable excuse."
Thus begins Henry's tale. In addition to character, this book could be an example of word play, too! At the end, there is a Star Wars-esque Afterword, then a DECODER with the meanings and origins of 20 "alien" words that all happen to be real words from the planet Earth.
The story is in the telling of the long excuse Henry gives, which tells quite a bit of his character, through his actions. The teacher finally says, "That is unbelievable. But today's assignment is to compose a tall tale. So why don't you sit down and get started writing." To which, Henry replies, "I'd love to, but ... I seem to have misplaced my zimulus." So the ending circles back around to the beginning, which is why he was late in the first place!
Examine a story you've written, whether brand new or one that's been revised several times. Compare your character to Henry P. Is your character likable? Childlike (acts like a kid)? Imperfect (makes mistakes or has a problem)? Believable? Henry P. would not have just sat down and started working. His character needed to give an excuse! Active? Henry P. DID things. And finally, does your character solve his or her own problem? Henry P. sure does! By telling what happened so his teacher knows why he is late, she accepts the excuse even though she doesn't really believe him, but only because the assignment for the day was to write a tall tale, which she believes his story falls under that category. However, Henry gets out of it again, or at least momentarily, because he didn't have anything to write with anymore.
Hope you enjoyed my first installment. Be sure to check back next Monday for Story Element #2: Conflict.
Keep on keepin' on...