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pile of books

Part of the pile of books I have to read

I have to read 40 YA books by May for the MFAC (masters of fine arts in children’s literature) program that I’m doing this semester. They gave me a list I could choose from. One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish is on the list. Can I just say it’s a fresh breath of beautiful air to be assigned that book vs. the other highbrow literature I’ve been asked to read in my MFA program. No offense to those writers. I just connect more with J.K. Rowling than, say, Crime and Punishment.  Speaking of J.K., she wasn’t on the list. WTF. Anyway…

The first one I read, which I won’t name because I’m going to say something negative, had some character background issues. The main female character (12 years of age) was yanked from her comfy life by her mother and transported half way around the world. Good premise for sure, but here’s my issue: this girl felt no rage and sadness and didn’t appear to have wanted anything before she was taken out of her world. Once she got to her new world, she became very interested in a certain profession, but it didn’t match up with who she was before. In other words, it felt like she hadn’t really existed before the book began. The baffling part about this was that she always wanted something (standard writing advice: make your character want something, even if it’s just a glass of water), but what she wanted didn’t make sense with who she was as a person.

Because I don’t want to tell you the name of the book, I’ll make up what it was like: Harry Potter, instead of wanting to discover his history and fight Voldemort, wants to be an astronaut. Ron is like, “Harry! Dumbledore sent a note. He wants to tell you cryptic things about your parents and how they died.” And Harry is like, “No Ron. I have to go up to the Astronomy tower and study stars because my dream is to go to space.” Harry’s want, in this case, just doesn’t line up with his background.

So note to self: make your character want things, but make sure the things your character wants grow out of that characters history and background.

Helpful Questions:

Why does my character want this thing?

What events have caused my character to want what he or she wants?

What events have either encouraged or discouraged my character concerning his or her wants?

What do you think?