I am very excited to introduce to you, uTales and Joanna Marple, the author of SNOW GAMES. Meeting authors and illustrators online or in person is a thrill for me. Having them guest blog and share their art makes me feel as though I’m helping to spread joy around the world.

In this post Joanna Marple writes about the creative process in developing her characters for SNOW GAMES. I found it fascinating. It’s an excellent resource for teachers of young writers.

While this is Mouse’s story, SNOW GAMES really does in many ways have four protagonists. This was an issue I grappled with in writing this story. I knew that I needed a main character, which had a problem that he/she needed to resolve; yet I also felt like these four animals were almost a unit in themselves. As I ploughed through various
drafts, Mouse’s character and focus developed, but you know what? So did Bear’s, Squirrel’s and Owls. Mouse is our hero, we care about the fact that despite humongous attempts on his part, he can’t seem to win any of the winter games his friends suggest. However, I wanted the reader to care about each of the others, if to a lesser degree. So, I started to ask my character’s questions. How they would react in different scenarios, and their personalities began to develop.

Squirrel was the hardest personality to uncover. Well, this is due in part to the fact that firstly Squirrel was Badger, but I suddenly realized the characters too closely resembled another picture book, thus Squirrel was born and also became female. The gender was very important and she developed into this fidgety, speedy, flighty character. Bear’s personality was probably the most solid from the word go. I knew he would be the first one to bluster onto page one of the book. He charged into the first stanzas and didn’t really give me much choice. He really is a good-hearted kind of chap. Owl has more hidden depths to her, and I am not sure she is quite as confident and courageous as she makes out. I love Mouse. He doesn’t become full of self-pity or grumpy when his plans fail and he keeps being beaten, he just keeps searching for a way to show his strengths. But, I do think one of the strengths of this story is that they are also a cohesive band of friends, who, despite some competition are completely committed to one another. Thus I not only tried to show each individual’s character, but I also wanted to portray the group dynamic. I believe competition and solidarity are often at work in children’s group dynamics and I wanted to reveal this in SNOW GAMES.

There is a danger in having too many characters in a picture book. If your story warrants it, which I felt mine did, we need to pay as much attention to the subsidiary characters as to the main one. If you know what your main character’s favorite color is, and strongest flaw, you should know the same for each. If you are struggling with these I highly recommend interviewing each one – random questions that you might ask a kid: What pet would you like? How do you like to celebrate your birthday? What’s your favorite breakfast? Without any stereotyping the gender of your animals will, of course, also be very important. I can tell you what each of mine eat for breakfast and much more; facts which seem irrelevant to the story yet help me know and show each one more effectively.

One of the dangers of anthropomorphic characters is distancing them from their true animal identities. About half the stories I write have animal characters and I
personally feel most comfortable placing them in natural settings. I intentionally had them create their sleds, though not purely from vegetative things, but from items they might find lying around in the forest. I actually pictured them without clothing, but loved the small additional items that Maja added when she illustrated them, which certainly added to their individuality.

In 500+/- words, a typical picture book length, I think we can be tempted to see the secondary characters as very peripheral. My encouragement here is to pay attention to every character in your story and the book’s impact will be the richer for it. In my
sequel to SNOW GAMES, these four personalities are developed further, as some
midsummer mischief leads them into a serious pickle!

Krista, thank you so much for allowing me to guest post on your blog.

If you would like to hear more from Joanna, follow her BLOG TOUR.

Wednesday, May 16th – Darshana’s blog,
Flowering Minds – Interview

Tuesday, May 29th – Sharon Stanley’s
blog, Sharon Stanley Writes
– Interview

Monday, June 4th – Clarike
Bo Jahn, Clarbojahn’s Blog –
The Story Behind the Story

Wednesday, June 6th – Diane Tulloch’s
blog, The Patient Dreamer – Book Review and mini

Monday, June 18th – Susanna Leonard
Hill’s Blog – The Process of Submitting a
Story to uTales

June Date TBD – Julie Hedlund’s Blog – Anthropomorphism in picture books

July Date TBD – Patricia Tilton’s blog, Children’s Books Heal, Book Review –
mini Interview

Comments to "Introducing uTales and SNOW GAMES"

  1. Pingback: Illustrator Interview – Brook Gideon | Miss Marple's Musings

  2. Darshana

    May 29, 2012

    Thanks for the insight into the characters Joanna. I will need to go back and re-read the story now. One of my favorite things about your book is how the animals use items in their environment.

  3. Pingback: Indoor Skydiving | Parenting with a Dash of Inspiration

  4. clarbojahn

    June 5, 2012

    Your description of how your characters became your characters is a joy to read. For my character in my children’s book “Annie’s Special Day” I only had to think of one and I made a list of characteristics for the illustrator. lol before that I hardly knew her. You seem very secure in the knowledge of who your characters are. Thanks for this post. I learned a lot about character building. 🙂

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