Archive for March, 2013

Choosing your favourite characters and making centaurs’ rear ends

I’ve met lots of kids dressed up as their favourite book characters in the last couple of weeks, for World Book Day and for Comic Relief. And one of the questions I’m asked most often during school visits is: who’s my favourite character in the books I write?
So I’ve been thinking about how we choose our favourite characters, and whether readers and writers like different characters for different reasons.
Do readers choose their favourite characters because those characters are like them, or very unlike them? Do readers choose the characters who are the funniest or bravest (or the easiest to dress up as?) Do readers choose characters they’d like as a friend?
Do writers like the characters who are most fun to write, or the characters who are most challenging and difficult to write? Do writers like the characters who keep the story moving, or who can be relied on to make any dialogue sparky?
I know readers have very strong relationships with their favourite characters, because I often get emails from readers demanding to know why I’ve done particularly terrible things to the characters. (The best example of this is a series of questions from a class in Inverclyde – you can read how defensive I got about all those injuries in First Aid for Fairies!)
I’m not sure writers make a decision to have a favourite character. I’m often surprised at which character turns out to be my favourite. Emmie is probably my favourite character in Rocking Horse War, and that wasn’t meant to happen at all. She was meant to be a minor character, but she just took over, which took me by surprise and makes her one of my favourite characters ever to write.
My favourite character in the First Aid series is Yann the centaur. That wasn’t the plan either! He was grumpy and aggressive and not very nice to Helen when I first met him. He argues with me in my head when I’m writing, and he can be very touchy and rude to other characters as well. He’s inconveniently honest (which I played with in Storm Singing) and unnecessarily keen on action and violence (which I did my best to deny him for most of Maze Running) and I’m absolutely sure that if I met him in real life he’d be angry with me about how often I’ve injured his friends and how I use his strengths against him to make my stories stronger. And I don’t really want to meet an angry centaur! But he’s definitely my favourite character, and that wasn’t a choice, it’s just what happened as I wrote the books.
However, I’m glad I don’t have to dress up as a centaur!
I’ve met people dressed as Lavender the fairy (purple dress and wings), Rona the selkie (silky dress and sealskin) and Helen (first aid kit and violin).
But I’d never met anyone dressed as Yann, and I wondered if that was because he wasn’t anyone else’s favourite character (perhaps I’ve done too good a job of making him grumpy and aggressive?) or if it was simply because it’s not easy to dress as a centaur!
So you can imagine how pleased I was when I met a boy at Flora Stevenson Primary on World Book Day who was dressed up as Yann. And he had the best horse’s bottom I have ever seen! (Even better than a real theatrical centaur costume which I saw at the Lyceum a couple of years ago.) He couldn’t sit down in it though. (I find that with Yann as well. He stomps about in a mood while everyone else is sitting down chilling out…)
I was delighted that a real reader of my books also likes Yann best, and very impressed that he (and his parents!) had put so much effort into a centaur costume. Here it is:

the Flora Stevenson centaur!

How do you choose your favourite characters? Does having a favourite character in one book make you want to read more about them in another book? (Is that why series are so popular?) And when you’re writing a story, are you ever surprised at which character you end up liking the best?