Creating Compelling Characters for Kids' Books
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 10 min read


  1. Character development basics
  2. Traits of successful children's characters
  3. How to develop your character's background
  4. How to create a character voice
  5. How to show character growth and change
  6. How to create unique and diverse characters
  7. How to illustrate characters effectively
  8. Example of compelling characters from kids' books
  9. Tips for writing engaging dialogue
  10. Common mistakes to avoid when creating characters

Are you dreaming of creating the next Harry Potter, Matilda, or Winnie-the-Pooh for young readers? It's not just about a great storyline; how to improve character design in children's books is a key element. A memorable, compelling character can make a huge difference to your story. Let's dive into the world of character creation and see how you can bring your own unique characters to life in your children’s book.

Character Development Basics

Creating compelling characters for kids' books begins with understanding the basics of character development. It's like assembling a puzzle, piece by piece, until you can see the whole picture.

  • Identify your character's role: Every character in your story has a role to play. It could be a hero, a villain, or a sidekick. The role will guide their actions, reactions, and development throughout the story.
  • Give your character a purpose: A character without a purpose is like a ship without a rudder. What does your character want? What are they trying to achieve? This purpose will drive their actions and decisions.
  • Create a backstory: A backstory explains why your character is the way they are. It's the history that shaped their personality, beliefs, and behaviors. It doesn't have to be detailed; even a few hints can create depth.
  • Consider the character's appearance: How a character looks can say a lot about them. Are they tall, short, colorful, or plain? Their appearance can reveal their personality, status, or mood.
  • Personality and traits: Is your character brave, shy, funny, or serious? Their personality traits will affect how they interact with others and how they react to situations. This is a key part of how to improve character design in children's book.

Remember, the goal is to create a character that kids can connect with and care about. So, take some time to really get to know your character. It's like making a new friend - the more you learn about them, the closer you become.

Traits of Successful Children's Characters

Have you ever wondered why certain children's characters stand the test of time? It's not just luck or marketing genius. Successful characters share certain traits that make them appealing and memorable. Let's take a closer look at these traits, and how they can help you improve character design in children's books.

  • Relatability: Children need to see themselves in the characters they read about. A character that faces similar challenges, emotions, or situations as your readers can be incredibly compelling. They don't have to be perfect; in fact, flaws can make a character even more relatable.
  • Consistency: Consistency in a character's behavior and reactions makes them believable and allows readers to understand them better. If your character is brave, they should consistently show courage. If they're shy, they should consistently exhibit shyness.
  • Uniqueness: What makes your character different from all the others? Unique traits, habits, or quirks can make a character stand out and be memorable. Perhaps they have a special skill, a distinct style of speech, or an unusual pet.
  • Growth: Characters that grow and change over the course of a story are engaging and satisfying. This could be learning a new skill, overcoming a fear, or changing their perspective on something.
  • Active: Active characters drive the story. They make things happen, rather than just reacting to events. This makes them interesting and gives readers a reason to root for them.

So, next time you're wondering how to improve character design in children's books, think about these traits. They can be a useful guide as you shape and develop your own characters.

How to Develop Your Character's Background

Creating a detailed background for your character is like laying the foundation for a building. It provides the context and depth that will guide their actions, reactions, and development throughout the story. So, how can you improve character design in children's books by crafting compelling backgrounds? Here are some tips.

  • Origin: Where did your character come from? Their hometown, family, and early experiences can shape their personality, beliefs, and values. A character from a bustling city might act differently than one from a quiet, rural village.
  • History: What significant events have happened in your character's past? These could include triumphs, failures, or traumatic experiences that influence their current behavior and motivations.
  • Education: What kind of schooling has your character received? An educated character might view the world differently than one who hasn't had the same opportunities.
  • Relationships: Who are the important people in your character's life? Friends, family, mentors, and rivals can all play a part in shaping your character's personality and goals.
  • Interests: What does your character enjoy? Their hobbies and passions can add depth, provide motivation, and make them more relatable to readers.

Remember, a character's background doesn't need to be spelled out in the story all at once. It can be revealed gradually, through their actions, dialogue, and thoughts. This can create intrigue and keep readers engaged. So, when you're looking for ways on how to improve character design in children's books, don't forget to pay attention to their background. It can make all the difference!

How to Create a Character Voice

Have you ever noticed how some characters in children's books really seem to talk to you? That's because their creators have mastered the art of character voice. Developing a distinct voice for your character is a surefire way to improve character design in children's books. Here's how you can do it:

  • Speech patterns: Does your character talk fast or slow? Do they use a lot of slang or prefer formal language? Maybe they always use certain phrases or repeat specific words. These details can make your character's voice unique and recognizable.
  • Emotion: How does your character express their feelings through speech? A happy-go-lucky character might talk in a lively, energetic manner, while a more serious character might speak in a calm, thoughtful way.
  • Viewpoint: Your character's perspective on the world can shape their voice. A curious character might ask a lot of questions, while a cautious character might often express doubts or concerns.
  • Dialogue: The way your character interacts with others can reveal a lot about their personality. Are they polite or rude? Do they listen to others or prefer to do all the talking?
  • Internal monologue: Your character's thoughts can provide insight into their inner world. What do they worry about? What makes them excited? This can add depth to their voice and make them more relatable to readers.

Remember, consistency is key when creating a character voice. If your character's voice changes too often, it can confuse readers and make your character less believable. So, keep these tips in mind when you're figuring out how to improve character design in children's book—creating a unique, consistent voice for your character can make them stand out and resonate with readers.

How to Show Character Growth and Change

Just like in real life, characters in children's books also grow and change. This aspect is important because it helps kids understand the concept of personal growth and adaptability. So, to improve character design in children's books, it's important to display this transformation clearly.

  • Establish a starting point: To show growth, you first need to establish a baseline. What are your character's strengths and weaknesses at the start of the story? What are their fears and dreams? Setting a clear starting point is fundamental.
  • Create challenges: Growth often comes from overcoming obstacles. Design scenarios that challenge your character and force them to step out of their comfort zone. It's in these situations that they'll learn, adapt, and grow.
  • Show progress: Make sure to depict your character's progress throughout the story. This could be through their actions, thoughts, or interactions with other characters. It’s important for young readers to see that progress is a process—it takes time and effort.
  • Highlight the transformation: By the end of the story, your character should have experienced some sort of change. It could be a shift in their behavior, attitude, or understanding of the world. Make this transformation explicit to ensure your readers grasp the journey the character has gone through.

Showing character growth and change is a dynamic way to improve character design in children's books. It not only makes your character more relatable but also sends a positive message to the young readers about the importance of personal growth and resilience.

How to create unique and diverse characters

Creating unique and diverse characters is a crucial part of designing characters for children's books. It encourages inclusivity, broadens horizons, and creates a rich reading experience for children. Here are some ways you can add diversity and uniqueness to your character design.

  • Embrace physical differences: Children need to see characters that look like them in books. Include characters of different races, ethnicities, body types, and abilities. This helps children identify with the characters and fosters a sense of belonging.
  • Consider different backgrounds: Reflecting various socio-economic backgrounds, family structures, and cultures in your characters can aid in teaching children about the world's diversity. It's a great way to subtly educate children about acceptance and empathy while improving character design.
  • Include a range of personalities: Just as in real life, not every character should be brave, smart, or kind. Some might be shy, some might be boisterous, and others might be a bit grumpy. A mix of personalities adds depth to your story and makes it more engaging.
  • Give each character a unique voice: Each character should have a distinctive way of speaking or expressing themselves. This could be through their choice of words, their tone, or their body language. This not only makes each character stand out but also makes them more memorable.

Creating unique and diverse characters is a powerful way to improve character design in children's books. It adds depth to your story, makes it more engaging, and helps children understand and appreciate the diverse world we live in.

How to illustrate characters effectively

Illustrations are a vital part of children's books—they breathe life into your story, making it more vivid and engaging. But how can you ensure your illustrations effectively represent your characters and their unique traits? Let's explore some strategies for this aspect of character design.

  • Consistency is key: Children learn and remember through repetition. So, make sure your characters are consistent throughout the book. If your main character has a blue hat in the first chapter, it should stay blue, unless there's a reason for it to change.
  • Use colors to convey traits: Colors can be a powerful tool in character design. For example, using bright, bold colors can communicate that a character is outgoing, energetic, or cheerful. On the other hand, muted or darker colors might suggest a more introverted or serious character.
  • Consider the character's personality when designing: If your character is adventurous, maybe they always have a backpack with essential explorer's tools. If they're bookish, perhaps they carry a book everywhere. Little details like these can tell a lot about a character's personality.
  • Visualize the emotions: Show, don't just tell, your character's feelings. If a character is sad, show it in their posture, facial expression, and even the colors around them. This can make the emotions more palpable and relatable for young readers.

Remember, the goal is not just to create pretty pictures, but to help convey the characters' personalities and emotions, making the story more engaging and relatable. By focusing on these aspects, you can significantly improve your character design in children's books.

Example of compelling characters from kids' books

Let's look at some examples of compelling characters from popular children's books. These characters are loved not just for their adventurous tales, but also for their unique personalities and growth throughout the story.

Harry Potter from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling: Harry is an excellent example of a well-developed character. He starts as an ordinary boy living under the stairs but grows into a brave wizard who stands up against the greatest dark wizard of all time. His evolution throughout the series, his strengths, and his flaws make him a compelling character.

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren: Pippi is a free-spirited, independent girl with superhuman strength. Despite her unusual circumstances—she lives alone with her horse and monkey—her cheerful and optimistic personality makes her a beloved character among kids.

Matilda from Matilda by Roald Dahl: Matilda is a young girl with extraordinary intelligence and magical powers. Despite her unloving family and cruel headmistress, her resilience and love for learning make her a character children can root for and admire.

These characters are successful because they are well-developed, unique, and experience growth and change throughout their stories. They have strengths and weaknesses, just like real people, making them relatable and memorable. When creating characters for your kids' books, consider these examples and think about how to bring your own characters to life in a similar way.

Tips for writing engaging dialogue

Dialogue plays a vital role in character development, story progression, and reader engagement. Writing engaging dialogue can seem challenging, but with a few tips, you can make your characters' conversations come alive.

Keep it Simple and Direct: Children appreciate straightforwardness. Avoid complicated words or sentences. Instead, opt for simple, easily understood language. A lively chat between characters can hold a child's attention far better than a lengthy monologue.

Make it Purposeful: Each line of dialogue should serve a purpose. It could reveal something about the character, advance the plot, or provide necessary information. Random conversations with no purpose can confuse readers and slow down your story.

Show, Don't Just Tell: Dialogue is a great way to show a character's personality. For example, a character who says, "Golly, that's a whopper!" might be more playful and informal than a character who says, "Indeed, it's large."

Use Dialogue Tags Wisely: Dialogue tags like 'said', 'asked', and 'replied' help readers know who's speaking. However, use them sparingly and creatively. Instead of always writing "he said" or "she asked", you can describe the character's action or expression. For instance, "But I don't want to go there," she whined, pouting.

Remember, writing dialogue is like having a conversation. By imagining how your characters would interact in real life, you can create engaging and authentic dialogue that will captivate your young readers and improve character design in your children's book.

Common mistakes to avoid when creating characters

While designing characters for children's books, it's easy to slip into some common pitfalls. By recognizing these errors, you can improve character design for your children's book. Here are a few common mistakes to avoid:

Creating One-Dimensional Characters: Characters should have depth and complexity, just like real people. Avoid making your characters entirely good or bad. Include strengths, weaknesses, hopes, and fears to make them relatable and engaging.

Overcomplicating Names: Remember, your target audience is children. They should be able to pronounce and remember your characters' names. Long, complicated names can deter young readers.

Lack of Character Development: Characters should grow and change over the course of the story. If your character starts and ends the story without any change, it might feel flat and uninteresting.

Making Characters Too Similar: Each character should have their own distinct voice and personality. If all your characters sound and act the same, it can confuse readers and make your story less engaging.

Ignoring the Age of Your Audience: The characters' problems, language, and world should be age-appropriate for your readers. A problem that's a huge deal for a six-year-old might not be interesting to a twelve-year-old.

By avoiding these common mistakes, you will be well on your way to creating compelling, engaging characters that will captivate young readers and improve the character design in your children's book.

If you're passionate about creating compelling characters for kids' books and want to learn more about the design process, don't miss the workshop 'Creating Characters: The Design Process' by Kit Buss. This workshop will guide you through the essential steps of character creation, helping you bring your imaginative characters to life in a way that resonates with young readers.