Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Story Element #1: Character (A Penguin Pup for Pinkerton)

I just read 10 tips to losing weight successfully. And the main advice was to NOT try all 10 tips all at once. Yes, we'll be excited. Yes, we'll be gung-ho and want to get started right away. But the rule is: you can only do one at a time. Pick one. Whichever one you want.

(Stay with me here - this relates to writing too.) Now you have to RATE each tip as to how you feel you could actually accomplish it. Exercise 30 minutes a day. Sleep 8 hours a night. Eat 3 cups of fruits/veggies a day. If you rate it a 9 or a 10 as to how confident you are to actually accomplishing it, then you can BEGIN. If you rate it a 6 or a 7, then you have to change the goal to make it easier. Maybe exercise 10 minutes a day. There. That's easy enough. I think that's totally a 9 or 10.

Try making your writing goals smaller and easier too. And only work on one at a time until it becomes a habit. 

Today's book is...
A Penguin Pup For Pinkerton

Author: Steven Kellogg
Illustrator: Steven Kellogg
Publisher: Dial/Penguin
Year: 2001
Word Count: 547

Summary: "After dreaming that he is the father of a penguin egg, Pinkerton mistakes a football for a real egg, resulting in chaos all over town."

Every book begins with a character. And this book's main character is a DOG. He's cute. He's memorable. And he causes conflict for his owner girl. This is definitely a CHARACTER book. There are at least five other books about Pinkerton.

In this book, Emily comes home from school one day and shares everything she's learned at school about
penguins. Pinkerton, her Great Dane, hears it all and begins acting like a father penguin. Emily is convinced he believes he is a penguin, so she takes him and the football he found to school for show and tell.

I know this is a great character book, with essentially two main characters. I'm racking my brain as to how to share, though. Pinkerton does not speak. Okay, he might bark a time or two, but he's not anthropomorphic. Perhaps sharing the actions will help. The whole point of doing this is to see the book as a model for our (my?) own writing. If I were to write a story with a strong character, how could Pinkerton help me? What are his traits? What if I call my human character Rob? Rob does not have to have the same personality traits for sure, but he should have some recognizable character trait.

Pinkerton is a little mischievous, curious, very impressionable, kind and loving, lonely, patient, active, and clever. So what are the actions that show me these traits? I think when we create our own characters, it's important to think what traits our readers will infer from the actions we make our characters perform. You don't have to formally map it all out on paper. It could be as simple as subconsciously thinking about a few key traits and a few key actions.

  • Pinkerton is a little mischievous: he takes Billy's football when he's not watching.
  • Pinkerton is curious: he learns all he can about penguins by listening to Emily.
  • Pinkerton is very impressionable: he listens to Emily say "all animals need something to care for and to love.... [He] is cradling that old football he found as if it were his egg."
  • kind and loving: thinks about caring for the cat, Rose. Licks his owners.
  • lonely: (also because he's so impressionable) "a lonely animal will sometimes adopt and care for another animal."
  • patient: waits for the football to hatch into a penguin chick
  • active: he runs through a football game and steals their ball (since he had to give Billy's ball back during show and tell)
  • clever: he takes the football to the ice skating rink and pretends he's at the antarctic.
My favorite line is: "Police! Police! Arrest that beast!" And the ending is a cute little twist of words. If you'd like me to share it, just ask in the comments and I'll share it there.

Use either an existing story, or a story in progress, and think about your MC (main character). What traits do you see that character having? Think about your story's conflict. Are there enough actions evident to SHOW that trait? Play around with different options and see what you come up with.

If you could hatch an egg, what animal would you choose (a bird, a fish, a reptile, something else)? I would choose a platypus and a seahorse.

Bonus Question: Do you think the creator of Clifford was inspired by this book? A big dog. A girl named Emily Elizabeth...? I wonder...

Keep on keepin' on...

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