“We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth at least the truth that is given us to understand. The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies.” –Pablo Picasso
In his Ted Talk, “Why a Good Book is a Secret Door,” children’s author Mac Barnett quotes Picasso and says he loves writing for children because they make the best audience. Children are so willing to enter other worlds.
He says good fiction will leave us with the feeling that the characters are real even though we know that they are not.
As a kid, he loved reading fantasy stories like the “Chronicles of Narnia,” and he was always looking in the real world for doorways to the fictional worlds he’d read about.
He talks about a writing technique called metafiction, which is a story about a story but he says instead of the audience breaking the fourth wall into the story, he prefers to have his books break the wall and enter reality. He wants his fiction to open up into the real world, to create a doorway into our world. Read more
What’s your strategy for naming characters? The right names can add depth to your characters and advance your story.
In See You at Harry’s, a book about a family who survives a tragedy, author Jo Knowles named her 12-year-old protagonist “Fern.”
In one scene, Fern and her mother discuss how Fern’s name was inspired by the book Charlotte’s Web.
“Do you know why I named you Fern?”
I nodded looking at the drawing of the girl on the cover of the book.
“Why?” She asked.
“Because Fern is one of your favorite characters?”
“And why is that?”
“Because Fern cares,” she said. “From the moment you were born, I could tell you had a special soul. I knew you’d be a good friend. A hero.”
I looked at my chest and tried to feel my soul buried in there, deep in my heart.
“It’s true,” my mom said. “Not everyone would share a sandwich with Random Smith.”
I smiled, feeling my soul stir a little.
Fern isn’t the only character who is named after a character in a book. Fern’s brother Holden is named after Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger. When Fern and Holden found out their mom was pregnant, they were allowed to weigh in on names, and they chose the name “Charlie” from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl.
Names can inspire personality traits in characters. The names can become part of the story, and the characters can sometimes live up — or not — to their names.
How do you choose your character names?
From the time I learned how to read, books have made a huge impact on me. I’ll never forget my third-grade teacher reading, “Where the Red Fern Grows,” and bringing me and my classmates to tears.
Other books I remember:
Charlotte’s Webby E.B. White. Wilbur the pig befriends a spider named Charlotte.
Celia Garth by Gwen Bristow. Celia Garth transforms from a fashionable dressmaker to a patriot spy during the Revolutionary War. Read more
Part of writing well is analyzing what works in the stories I admire, love, and that stick in my mind long after I read them.
In May, Publishing Perspectives organized “What Makes a Children’s Book Great?,” a half-day event hosted by Scholastic Inc. For more insight about the topic from publishing experts and authors at the event, read this post by Dennis Abrams at Publishing Perspectives.
Richard Robinson, President and CEO of Scholastic Inc., shared these characteristics of what makes a children’s book great.
A great book:
- Contains a simple and original idea presented with clarity and great power. Read more