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Thursday, October 28, 2010

What does Halloween have to do with fiction writing?

To me, Halloween has always been about the candy. My brothers and I used to spend every October brainstorming new ways to maximize candy-gathering while trick-or-treating. Candy is, after all, serious business when you’re 11! By using the following innovations, we always amassed a “healthy” supply of candy that lasted well into spring.

1) Pillowcases. There’s nothing better to carry your sweet, sweet loot. Yes, we filled them completely by night’s end, in no small part due to our second innovation…

2) Rollerblades. This was a major breakthrough -- it allowed us to hit more houses per minute! Of course, we fell down a lot (you try to rollerblade with a cape, sickle, and skeleton mask on sometime), but that didn’t matter much as we had a big sack of candy to cushion the blow. (And as far as we were concerned, flattened candy tasted just as good, anyway.) The third innovation, however, was the true source of our success…

3) Create a memorable character. I always went as the grim reaper, so I spoke in a gravelly voice. I also made sure my cloak was just long enough to conceal my rollerblades; that way, I appeared to float like a ghost from house to house. Year after year, my grim reaper character was recognized by more and more houses. And, year after year, my candy returns increased!

As an editor, I encourage my writers to take the same approach to crafting a memorable character. Readers will not become engaged in a book if they are unable to relate to the protagonist on some level. The character has to make sense within the world presented in the story. This is true of all ages of readers, but it’s especially important in children’s literature because kids see the main character as at least a partial projection (or reflection) of themselves to an even greater extent than adult readers do. Thus, if a character is a walking, talking info dump, it’ll come off as flat and unrelatable, and the book will end up back on the shelf before the first chapter is finished.

For comics and graphic novels, character creation is even more important. Visual presentation alone does not a compelling character make; thus, if the character speaks like an adult, thinks like an adult, and acts like an adult, it won’t matter if it looks like a kid -- young readers can tell when a character isn’t authentic, and they have no patience for it! So, whenever dealing with the comic book medium, we ask our writers to provide thorough, well thought out character descriptions that are expressions of the character’s inner person. We also ensure that our illustrators properly convey the characters’ personalities visually.

In a way, I suppose books with good characters are a lot like candy: they’re rewarding to consume and wrapped in an enticing package. I mean, come on—we all need a treat now and then (or perhaps a pillowcase full).

Sean Tulien
Associate Editor - Fiction

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