Making Awesome Characters

The kids in Awesome Sauce have been in my mind and on the computer screen since July of 2010 and they seem like life long friends. How did this happen?  In the beginning I knew anyone could create these 11-12 year old characters but in order to take it a step further I would have to  understand them thoroughly,  knowing exactly what he or she would do in any situation. I had to get into their head.

For all my kid characters I used several rules in developing and revising their personalities:

  • Make them unique and likeable in their own way.
  • They must be believable with their actions and dialog. I kept striving to hear each one’s separate voice in dialog sequences.
  • Make sure each character has a purpose for being in the story otherwise cut them out. I lost a few along the way.
  • Keep them as the main focus of the story allowing the adults in only when needed.

Eleven-year old Hender Wently had to carry the whole story on his young shoulders so I initially developed his personality and it was not difficult. Over the course of my teaching career one type of kid kept showing up in my classroom, more frequently in later years. On the continuum of how much we use our right visual brain hemisphere and our left sequential brain, these kids were so visual in their thinking that one could not even comprehend how they processed incoming stimuli. Don’t we all think alike?

I was fascinated by their tendencies and eventually bumped into an expert who was a visual thinker himself and started to get a better understanding through his eyes. I learned how they think in pictures, often have delayed verbal processing, see the world three dimensionally, and remember faces over names. Jeffrey Freed taught me techniques how to work with these learners and I had much success where others had stumbled. The most revealing fact coming out of my understanding was that I too was a visual learner but after 12 years of public school and seven years of college I had compensated by moving closer to the middle.

Hender was going to be a visual-spatial learner in addition to being impulsive, underachieving, and unorganized. Hender would also possess a unique memory, able to store large amounts of trivial information that initially only serves to entertain him self. I had a student like this once and he could spend hours memorizing the dictionary. I eventually turned it into his own personal reward system. He left my class knowing every word in order through the “Q’s.” No test for that skill in public or private school.

Hender lives with his Mom and Grandpa high up the hill on Mount Charleston, Nevada. Like many of the kids I have mentored Hender is going through life without a dad. Once he figures out the possibility of finding this person, Hender’s impulsive ways take over. To get a better understanding of Hender’s way of thinking, his spot-on literal reactions, and humorous outlook, I made him the first person narrator. Hender ended up with the “voice” needed to carry the story successfully.

Hender has a best friend named Jonson. They are exact opposites in every way. Jonson is short with long black hair, does well in school, is organized, and thinks of the world as his stage for joke telling. He is also Hender’s number one supporter and provides the plans for Hender to succeed forcing Hender to try things out on his own.

Two girls are also in the story. First there is Everly who is Hender’s nightmare and personal bully and has been chasing him for almost three years. The second is Ella who is from is from England and spending the year in the Mount Charleston community with her mom. Hender has a slight crush on Ella.

The AWESOME SAUCE characters were all set- strong, believable, and unique. I would soon learn my story was lacking all of these traits.

“Characters are what make a good story sparkle and come to life.”

About Greg Pattridge

Climbing another mountain...writing middle grade novels.
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