To Write Excellent Children's Stories, Your Characters Must Evolve

Author: Rick Alimonti

Perhaps the act of forgiveness, true forgiveness, is the ultimate example of taking a second look. In this process three critical participants in the story evolve:

1. The character taking the second look evolves by opening his mind to another and to greater depths of the person 'looked at'

2. The character being looked at also changes in the minds of the reader/observer as a newer deeper component of them is revealed to us

3. The reader evolves as he experiences these revelations along with the characters. Indeed the reader may well be brought along for this second look just like a character in your story.

Characters can 'evolve' simply by revealing aspects of themselves that we may not at first be allowed to see. Although perhaps not a true evolution because the part revealed to us was there all along, the effect on the reader is much the same.

For example, in Katherine Patterson's wonderful Bridge to Tarabithia (a truly remarkable children's book that takes chance and delivers powerfully), I am particularly drawn to the character of the father. At first blush, he seems a somewhat heartless and unfeeling character - maybe even one of the 'monsters' of Taribithia. Yet, when we see him respond to the tragedy of the death of Leslie and comfort his son Jess, a new side of him is revealed. We are treated to a similar wonderful revelation from Jess's teacher Mrs. Meyers.

After these revelations of true depth, tenderness, and feeling, we cannot think of these characters the same way again. Revealing a deeper side of a character who, it turns out, is not quite the character we first expected, can be one of the most powerful aspects of writing. It can only happen a few times in a given story, but if you reflect on various stories you have enjoyed, you will find that many of them have such eye-opening moments. Here are a few across genres:

-Literature. Ebenezer Scrooge awakening on Christmas morning a changed man.
-Film. Captain Von Trapp, whose heart is softened by the 'sound of music.'
-Pop Song. Leader of the Pack. 'They told me he was bad, but I knew that he was sad.'

I personally cannot write without character evolution, and my writing seems empty without it.

In my first published book, which was about stranger danger, a child learned that we could not judge people by appearances. In my second, a young dinosaur learned not to, quite literally, judge another triceratops by its stripes. In my third book, young Tommy and his friends open themselves up to possibilities both around them and within them that 'older and wiser' minds may have shut out.

There might be some who would say that a children's story should be simple with stock predictable characters. I think this sells our (child) reader short. By the time a child can read, she has already come to understand learning, change, the complexities of friendship and relationships, the many components of friends (and certainly parents and siblings!). Give them characters that grow and evolve. They deserve them. They will understand them, and perhaps even grow with them.

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About the Author

Rick Alimonti is nationally and internationally recognized as an expert it Aviation Law, and his law firm has clients throughout the US and Europe. He has always loved airplanes and aviation and became a private pilot in 1994. He has a passion for teaching and promoting legal ethics and speaks and published several times a year on legal ethics.

Rick's children's books focus on character growth and understanding. It could be said that his characters evolve and learn to see the possibilities within themselves and others. In Tommy and the T-Tops, a picture book for children published in 2009, a young dinosaur learns that the striped triceratops from distant heard can teach quite a lot to his green-colored herd. In the Fix-It Shop, Tommy Jameson and other characters come to accept that life has possibilities beyond the ordinary. Tommy, in particular, learns of the strength and magic that was with him all along - even if he never escapes the confines of his wheelchair.
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