Writing a Picture Book/Part One - Creating Characters Kids Love | Lisa Michaels | Skillshare

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Writing a Picture Book/Part One - Creating Characters Kids Love

teacher avatar Lisa Michaels, Pro Freelance Illustrator/Author

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

9 Lessons (27m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. Condensing Information

    • 3. Your Audience

    • 4. Relatability

    • 5. Key to Successful Characters

    • 6. Character Chemistry

    • 7. Fleshing Out Your Character

    • 8. The Collaborative Dance

    • 9. Wrap Up

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About This Class

In this series, award-winning and published author/illustrator, Lisa J. Michaels, shares over 15 years of experience in children’s publishing. You’ll study her process for writing a children’s picture book that kids will love! Once you’ve completed the series, you’ll be well equipped to confidently submit your own book to traditional publishers or you can self-publish with relative ease. 

In this class, “Creating Characters Kids Love”. Lisa shows you her tried-and-true methods for creating unique, fun picture book characters that will bring your story to life! Once you’ve discovered who your characters are, you can draw them (if you’re artistically inclined) or follow her lead to describe them using carefully chosen, visually non-descriptive manuscript text. Either way, You’re sure to find that extra little spark that you need to light your way towards becoming a published children’s book author!  

Don't lose your momentum! Classes 2 & 3 in this series are available now!!! Class 2 will help you to discover where and how to find terrific story ideas and how to stock pile them for future manuscripts! Class 3 will take you through one of my own (entire) manuscripts from start to finish, breaking it down into little, bite-size pieces that identify all the components for great storytelling. In addition, you'll receive all the necessary tools to build your own story, brick by brick!

Get crackin' authors and let's see what you can contribute to the world of picture books!! 

Meet Your Teacher

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Lisa Michaels

Pro Freelance Illustrator/Author


As a published, professional illustrator and author of children’s literature, I am always looking for projects that will not only challenge me, but further my very enjoyable career. If you've written an awesome children's book that you'd like to see illustrated and published, please contact me at [email protected] and we'll discuss the possibilities.

I create my book illustrations using Procreate on my I-pad pro with an Apple digital pen. You can visit my children's book portfolio at www.ljmichaels.weebly.com. There, you can examine many of the illustrations that I've created for the published books of previous authors/clients.




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1. Introduction: Hello, Thank you for joining me for writing a picture book, Part one. Creating characters Kids love. I'm Lisa Michaels, and in this series I'll share important information about how you, too, can write a Children's picture book. Once it's written, you can decide if you want to self publish or try submitting it to traditional publishers. There are pros and cons to both, but that's another class altogether money. The fact that you're here tells me that you've been thinking about writing a Children's book, and I'm really excited for you because this is like the best time ever to get started in this business. Self publishing has really been on the rise, and it's so much easier than it used to be. And there's a lot of people that are still getting published traditionally, so your chances are good. Whatever the case may be, we're going to get your creative juices flowing so that you can come up with something unique and fun for young readers. I started my own personal journey in writing, illustrating at self publishing picture books in 2000 and three. If you check Amazon today, you'll find at least a dozen books with my name on. I've written and published several articles for books on the subject of Children's publishing and illustrated many picture books for self publishing authors. Just like you. So what do you think you'll need for this class? Number one. Be prepared to let your inner child out to play. That's right. We're gonna get silly number to bring your imagination and Children's books. Everything is possible. Anything can happen. Number three. You'll need to carve out a couple of 15 minute time slots every day and go someplace quiet to write your car's agreed place. Knowing you don't have to devote hours, we'll take the stress. Love way down Number four. Choose your method. Old school notebook paper or a high tech iPad will work just fine. This'll will be a judgment free zone. So whatever makes you happy and comfortable Number five. Finally, find your muse, tap into whatever it is that inspires you and use it to create your best work. I had a lot of help from some great people when I started out. I'm really hoping to pay it forward by helping you to begin successful writing and publishing journey that you've always dreamed of writing for kids is really fun, and it's very rewarding to see a child holding your book in their hands. But it's also a lot harder than people think. Like everything else in life. There are rules that we have to follow if we want to create something that today's kids will want to read night after night. And that's what you're shooting for, right? Let's get started by creating our characters. Kids and giggles go together like bears and honey. They love to laugh. And who doesn't want to hear a funny story? If you can create unique characters and make kids laugh, you'll have a winning combination in this class. I'll show you a few fun and easy ways to come up with great characters for your own picture books. If you're artistically inclined, you can draw your characters to share with other class members. But if not, that's OK to describing them for the class works just as well. So what have you got to contribute to the world Picture books? Will it be a new spin on an old story will be a unique character that is seldom written about just exactly what will make picture book buyers fall in love with the characters you create. I'm having a great time making picture books, and I hope that you'll hop on the creativity trade, too. Come on, there's still room for at least one more. 2. Condensing Information: Welcome back. While I wish I could tell you everything there is to know about writing a Children's picture book, but simply impossible. There are literally huge volumes of information, instructions, tips and opinions on every aspect of Children's publishing. You get sick of hearing my voice because we'd be here together for months without writing. A single word to do in this series is to condense things down for you. I'll tell you what I believe are important key elements in writing a Children's picture book. You'll be able to begin your journey into Children's publishing immediately because you'll no longer be thinking about writing. You'll actually be doing. Ready or not, here we go. 3. Your Audience: this first class is all about creating picture book characters. Notice the emphasis I put on the words picture book. The reason for that is that not every character is right for this kind of book. Picture books are read by 4 to 6 year olds now you may want to argue that point, but the truth is, if you ask a seven year old if they read picture books, they will quickly and quite clearly tell you that picture books are for babies. Okay, so let's talk about that for a minute. At the age of seven, most kids are ready to move on toe early chapter books, not chapter books, early chapter books. There is a difference because they look a little bit more like big kids novels. That's the appeal. Early chapter books have black and white pictures. They have fewer pictures, usually one or two per chapter to help with comprehension. Picture books are all pictures, so this is what they graduate from all pictures and very few words too tight, tight books. They have, you know, lots and lots of words, lots and lots of pages and very few pictures. While Fisher Books have under 1000 words and 24 to 32 pages. Early chapter books have at least double the word count. Many more pages and stories air bit more complex with a lot more characters. So now that you know your target 4 to 6 year old audience, you'll need to create characters that appeal to that specific age group. 4. Relatability: as I mentioned, not every character is right for picture books. One of the rules of thumb in the literary world is that adults are seldom seen as characters in picture books. If you make the decision to include adults in your picture book, you'll be giving publishers a clear indication that you are a novice writer who does not understand your 4 to 6 year old picture book. Audio has seen a few illustrations that I did for writers who were first time self publishing authors. Although all of these books were very well written and they were critique and revised and polished, each of the authors felt that it was necessary and vital to their story to include adults as prominent characters. Despite the advice that they received from countless professionals. In cases such as this, the illustrator must respect the wishes of the client or move on to another project. I don't know about you, but I have bills to pay, so if a manuscript comes along that is exceptionally good, I jump on it and do the best I can to work with it and give it all that I've got. Unfortunately, there have been occasional illustrating projects that I've turned down because the manuscripts were too preachy and more about what the adults had to say then about entertaining the child reader. I mean, ultimately, my name will be on the front of the book alongside the authors, so I carefully choose the projects that I work on. And I keep in mind that I have a responsibility to my readers to I only put out high quality picture books that I feel comfortable giving to my own child. Every illustrator out there has that option. So if you have trouble finding an artist to work with you, take another look at your manuscript. It could be that you have to do some revising if you ever want to see it. Illustrated and published Children identify with other Children so your main character should be a child or a child like individual. One of the fun things about picture book characters is that they come in all shapes and sizes. Your main character could be a human, an animal or even an object, as long as it's something a child can identify with on a very personal level, 5. Key to Successful Characters: Another key to a great picture book is to create a character that is unique in some way. You know, not something that you hear about every day. Think about how many books have been written about dogs, cats and teddy bears. Oh my. The literary world needs is yet another dog story, unless it's a strange, wonderful Kalev really unique mongrel of a dog. Yeah, the likes of you, which we've never seen before, right? Always. She is really smart, and she's spoiled rotten. You may be thinking, How will I ever come up with something different? The truth is that every subject out there has been written about before, but when you write it, you're going to bring to it your own personal life experiences, and that's gonna make it completely different. So don't be discouraged. I'll be cheering you on every step of the way, and you may not know this, but as a new Children's book writer, you've just joined a huge group of creative people who are very supportive 6. Character Chemistry: Here's a clever and simple way to come up with characters that kids can have fun with. It will sound like science, but don't worry. I'm allergic to that. And math, too. Just ask my accountant, get out a piece of paper or type it out on a device and title it character chemistry. Then draw two columns at the top of Column one right characters. So now I want you to take a few minutes to think of some unusual and funny characters for a Children's picture book. Remember to think about the age of your target audience and imagine characters that they can relate to or identify with. In some way. Lots of things come to my mind like penguins, your abs, crickets, mouse upper cons at seven at the top of column to write props. Okay, here we go. So now let's think of some props for column to get you started. How about umbrella, a rocking horse, a peanut, a fish bowl, bicycle, flashlight, kids, flashlights and oh, underwear I never saw get yet that didn't giggle. When you say the word underwear. Now pick a character from Column one and give him or for of proper. Two from column two, for example, a penguin on a bicycle with the short legs. Imagine how funny it could be to see him pedalling a bicycle. How funny would it be to read about enough paca who loved ooey gooey marshmallows or a kangaroo with an umbrella balancing on a high wire? So now I want you to mix them all up and see if we could come up with a fun and unique character for very own story, take some time and play around with it. You can even mimic a family relative or a character from history. But if you do, be really careful, here could be consequences. My cousin shall really still hasn't forgiven me for using him as an inspiration for a character that I wrote about a slow moving sloth. 7. Fleshing Out Your Character: again. I'm glad to see you're still with me now that we've used a little bit of chemistry to create a unique and fun character for our story. Let's think about giving him or her a little bit of personality. You may have a story in mind for your character already, so you want to create a personality that fits your story line, and that's fine. But what if you don't have story? Either way, great fun can be had and letting the character that you just created tell you all about himself asked him questions By how old are you? What do you like to wear and why? Where are you from? How did you get here? What are your favorite activities? What do you like to do for fun? Do you have a pet? What is it? What's its name? Do you have a best friend? What bugs you? What do you want to be when you grow up? Do you have any problems and what are they? Little exercise that we just did is called fleshing out your character. You'll hear that a lot in the Children's publishing industry, figuring out who your character, he or she is before we start writing. Our story helps us to know our character well and how he or she will react to the situations that were about to introduce them to. I got a second. It's me l A B. I just wanted to sneak in for a little f Y I moment before Mom gets back. Whoa, there, partner. No hijack in my class. I told you she was smart. So here's the little side note that l always tried to sneak in for us. It has to do with your characters. Traditional publishers almost never let the author and the illustrator communicate, so yeah, Yeah, rumors are true. So this is where flushing out your characters will really pay off. You want the artist who's assigned to your book to have a basic idea of what you want your character to look like? So how do you think that you're going to do that? If you aren't able to come right out and tell them I'm gonna show you how to do that in the next video. So stay tuned. I really think that this is the most important part of the class, you know, I was going to keep going with the class. But then I started thinking about self publishing and the fact that you may want to do that at some point down the road. So I figured I ought to tell you that usually the only way that you'll ever get to work with an illustrator directly is if you self publish your book. Over the years, I have come to realize that many people decided to self publish just so that they have the opportunity and the experience of collaborating with an artist. They feel that it gives them a little bit more control over the outcome of their book, if they could literally described the artist what it is that they want them to draw. While that may be true, I don't recommend are directing and leading to our trained illustrator or you've taken classes in composition and balance and color and all those things that we are trained to do as illustrators. Most illustrators have a very playful imagination, telling them what every page should look like. Good, stifle their creativity, tying them up so that their only able to see your vision, they won't be able to contribute their own unique ideas to mix. Traditional publishers know that if you try to dictate what your illustrator draws that you'll miss out on a great opportunity to tap into their imagination, your newly created character will give your illustrator all the information that they need . If you do it correctly. Often, the exercise of creating a character will give you a great idea for a picture book, and you'll be off to the races on your way to writing a wonderful story. 8. The Collaborative Dance: remember what your book is. Illustrated pictures will show the details, so show us using words what the pictures can't. I want to start by talking about visually descriptive words. These are words that immediately bring to mind a specific vision. For example, if I write Lizzie wore a pink dress, the illustration will show a pink dress. The reader both reads the description and sees the description making the sentence redundant and unnecessary. If we're looking at the illustration, we don't need that sentence at all. So wouldn't it be wiser to use the opportunity to tell the reader something about Lizzie that they can't see in the illustration? Something that we need to know that will add to the story like Lizzie never let Henry out of her sight. Now, doesn't that make you wonder why, Instead of stating the obvious using visually descriptive words, you're using words that set the premise for what comes next in the story. For example, using my character chemistry sheet, I crossed a monkey with roller skates. Here's the wrong way to describe the character in my story. Alfred is a long legged monkey from Hawaii. He's wearing a Hawaiian print shirt and roller skates, and he's carrying a fish bowl. Here's the correct way to write about my character so that the illustrator will know exactly what I intended, but I'm not using visually descriptive words. Alfred Love to wear bright tropical colors that reminded him of home as he skated through the neighborhood. He pushed with one knuckle, cradling his best friend, Bubbles. He was careful not to get his armpit hair in the fish bowl. Nothing is worse than wet, fishy smelling armpits. Thought Alfred Bubbles went everywhere with Alfred. No matter what do you see what a big difference there is between these two descriptions, The 1st 1 tells us everything that we will see in the illustration. It is visually descriptive in every way. It tells us nothing that we won't already visually understand. When we look at the illustration, the second description will let the illustration do its job. It tells us the following things that we would not know by looking at the illustration alone, offered loves toe wear, things that remind him of the home that he misses. The scene is his new neighborhood bubbles. The goldfish is his best friend. They are inseparable I also noticed there is comedy, an action that tells the illustrator that the main character is undoubtedly a monkey. He pushes with one knuckle cradling his best friend bubbles, and nothing is worse than wet, fishy smelling armpits. Thought Alfred Harry. Armpits are hysterical. When you're five years old, I bet good money that you just learned something that you never realized before. Descriptive words can be really tricky, right? Good writing is using them to your advantage. To tell a story in a way that informs the illustrator contributes to the illustrations and enhances this story by giving your character a unique personality. Remember, a solid identity is key to giving your character a strong voice, and a strong voice is the key to a great story. Before we wrap up, I want to give you a little insight as to how one illustrator thanks by showing you what happens when you give your character a distinctive personality, you should expect that the professional illustrator will inject a few of their own ideas, which will enhance your characters even further, bringing them to life in ways that you might not have imagined. I'll bet there if new things about my monkey Alfred that you didn't expect to see when you were reading his description. The illustrator not only depicts the authors wishes it goes a bit further, allowing the illustrator to use their imagination as well. These are terrific little extras that the author would not have gotten if they had attempted to direct the artist in creating the character. I hope you're enjoying watching my illustration process, but keep in mind that every illustrator style is different. If you decide to self publish, look for an illustrator whose online portfolio reflects the sort of look that you want for your characters. What you see. He's usually what you'll get, just like in a dance. Illustrations and text are collaborative partners that each have a job to do before the music stops leave. But don't stuff all over your illustrators toes. Give them the space that they need to be a good dance partner and you'll both win. Both the illustrations and the text will contribute to the story being told, and that's when the real magic happens. 9. Wrap Up: So let's review what we've covered. I hope you learned a lot. You now know for sure who your target audience is. The age group that you're writing for. You know what kind of characters to avoid and what characters are appropriate for Children's books in your targeted age range, you know that you need to come up with a character that unique in some way, not your run of the mill dog, cat or teddy bear. You created your own fun character chemistry, she that you'll be able to use over and over again to create imaginative, unique characters to star in your stories. Then you learned how to flesh out your character, giving him a solid identity and a personality that's all his own. We talked about the collaborative dance between the author's text on the illustrators images. When these two creative minds each contribute their own expertise to the mix, wonderful things happen. You've learned how to write without using visually descriptive words. On that alone will add a richness to your story that is often lacking in many of the picture books written today. I hope this has been a fun and inspiring class for you. if you enjoyed it, please bring your newly created characters and join me for writing a picture book. Part two. Beginning your stool. You started on the road to further developing your characters voice and exploring ways to grab your reader's attention so that they want to find out what happens next. I look forward to reading your posts and hearing about the wonderful characters that you will be introducing into the world of picture books. Don't be afraid. Dive right in. The ocean is vast. And isn't it about time that you swam with a mermaid or two? Or maybe a clam with a tan, where some glasses or maybe a seahorse on a bicycle? How about an octopus? Was allergic to water?