If you pick up a novel from any middle grade series, one of the first things you’ll notice is that it has a strong main character. With so many things competing for a middle grader’s attention, your reader needs to start becoming attached to your main character right from the beginning of the story.
How can you create a character that your readers will care about?
Get the age right. How old should your main character be? In most middle grade novels, the main character is slightly older than the target age group – around 13 for upper middle grade, maybe 11 or 12 for younger middle grade. But just stating their age in your story isn’t enough. Your character needs to have the perspective of a middle grader. This is so hard to do. As an adult, there are lots of things you know that a middle grader wouldn’t. The way a middle grader thinks and how he or she solves a problem is going to be different than the way an adult would.
Think about their interests. What does your character really love? If they have a passion for something, that can fire up a passion in your reader, too. It’s like sharing an interest with a good friend. You both like spaceships or trying on makeup. Did I say spaceships? Well, we’re talking about middle graders here, so their interests are the ones you need to tap into. This is also the age where there really starts to be a distinction between “boy books” and “girl books”.
Be choosy about details. Middle grade readers don’t want to read too much detail, they want to find out what happens. And the details that do you do include about a character should be specific. Like a unique hobby or interest. Is hair and eye colour important? Maybe, if it's something your character is proud of or hates about themselves. Sometimes character details are things you need to know to create the character, but don't necessarily need to be included in your novel.
Some of the best advice I’ve gotten about creating character comes from The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life by Noah Lukeman. He suggests that creating a character doesn’t stop at generating a list of characteristics and traits. A key step is to go further and think about how these characteristics will affect the plot of the story.
Creating Compelling Characters by Jodie Renner over at the Blood Red Pencil.
Seven Ways to Develop Compelling Characters, notes from Gail Carson Levine's keynote speech at the 2010 SCBWI conference in LA, by Ingrid Sundberg of Ingrid's Notes.
How to Avoid Creating Plastic Characters by Jody Hedlund at her blog.
A whole slew of links to great posts about creating character in The Best of the Best: Character, Plot, Dialogue and Structure from Adventures in Children's Publishing.
MG. vs YA Characters by Beth Revis gives us an interesting take on what lies under the surface in middle grade and YA characters, and what makes them compelling.
Do you have any tips for bringing characters alive for middle grade readers?