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Blog Behind the Pages: Crafting Characters and Stories

Behind the Pages: Crafting Characters and Stories

By Mary Murphy | Guest Blog

Behind the Pages: Crafting Characters and Stories

Behind the Pages: Crafting Characters and Stories with Children's Author and Illustrator Mary Murphy

I have written and illustrated about forty-five books, and almost all of them are picture books. My shortest books have only seven words in them!

THE MINUTE MINDERS is my first novel. It started with an idea. What if you only had a minute to help someone? Or to complete a task? It turns out that a minute can be quite a long time. For example if you are trying to save a plant’s life by giving it water, that probably takes about twelve seconds.

I also liked the idea of everyone, kids especially, having support and help and people cheering for them, even when they think they’re alone. I put those two ideas together and came up with concept for THE MINUTE MINDERS.

Now I needed characters to make the idea into a story.

Picture books characters are usually easy for me to figure out. I can draw a grumpy, or happy, or scared face. And I usually draw animals, because that’s what I like best. Simple!

But for THE MINUTE MINDERS I needed to create a character, and exactly what they would do, using words only.

First came Stevie. Stevie is a ‘fidder’ whose job it is to help humans. Humans can’t see fidders and the rule is that they can’t let humans know they exist, but Stevie is no good with rules...

Then came Stevie’s dad.

Writing Tip 1: Try to find a way to make yourself stay interested in your characters.

As a child, I didn’t get to spend much time with my dad. So I gave Stevie the whole book with hers. I thought that might keep me interested, and it did. I imagined Stevie having Dad all to herself, and I enjoyed letting them speak to each other, and work alongside each other, and seeing their relationship.

Writing Tip 2: You can create characters from all sorts of starting points.

In real life I have two dogs, Honey and Alfie, and I made them characters in THE MINUTE MINDERS.

My dog Honey is very sociable and smart. In the book Honey is a fidder (not a dog) who owns her own bagel bar. In real life Honey is a collie, and her attention to detail is excellent. Not surprisingly in THE MINUTE MINDERS she runs a top class business.

My dog Alfie is clumsy, defensive and a bit grumpy. He gets things wrong. In the book he’s an Art Department Executive who keeps making mistakes, but Stevie and Dad like him anyway. Like my Alfie, Alfie MacTalfie can never get enough to eat. And he is soft-hearted behind it all.

I think in my next book I will challenge myself to create a character based on something completely different. What kind of fidder (or human) would a tennis ball make? A fir tree? A hibernating squirrel? I might pick something like this and see what happens when I write them as a person.

So as you can see, you don’t have to use people as inspiration for your characters – it can come from anywhere!

Published: Wed 31st Jan 2024

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