Pam Calvert is a former science teacher turned award-winning children’s author. She’s best known for her Princess Peepers series, but recently launched her new chapter book series Brianna Bright Ballerina Knight, illustrated by Liana Hee. Pam has mentored other writers through the Writing With the Stars mentorship program and through her own informative site, Woven With Pixie Dust. Pam has two character-driven series under her belt and a soon-to-be-third underway. She’s joined us to talk about characters. Thank you, Pam!
What made Princess Peepers a character that could translate across several stories?
She’s a quirky character that has a personality. If you don’t know your character, you can’t write more stories about them. Princess Peepers loves everyone no matter what they look like or who they are. They could be an ugly troll or a tiny dragonfly, she’ll love it. Which is quite different from many people who put labels on things. And that comes through the stories. She also is a people pleaser, which is one of her faults. Your character must have flaws they have to work through to make a story—this causes problems, something every story must have! Also, PP always loses her glasses, one way or another, and this allows for comedic situations that make children laugh when she can’t see what’s going on. Put all that together on top of some of her silly catch phrases, and you have a good series character!
With Brianna Bright, did you purposefully plan to have a character driven series and if so, how did you go about crafting her in a way from the beginning to ensure that she could last across a series?
I did. My editor came to me and asked if I could write a strong girl book. She wanted a commercial book, too, which lends itself to series.
So…I knew ballet books were very popular with girls, and Two Lions didn’t have one. But I wanted to do something different. At the time, I was reading and watching Game of Thrones. Arya Stark, one of the characters, was this strong princess type character that didn’t want to be in frilly dresses. She wanted to be a knight like her brothers (they didn’t call them this in the story but that’s basically what they are.) That gave me the idea to make my ballerina princess into a knight as well. I worked backward to create the story with what if’s…what if a clumsy ballerina also wanted to become a knight? What would happen? How would she go about finding her way? Then the story basically wrote itself.
The key to a great story is an even greater idea. Giving my ballerina princess a sword had never been done before. Sure, there’s princess knights out there, but there’s only ONE princess ballerina knight. That’s Brianna Bright. Now, Brianna Bright can use her two talents in more stories. She’s brave, but clumsy. She’s also rash—acting before thinking which can get her into trouble! Oh no! But in the end, things seem to work out for her. Since she isn’t perfect, people can root for her, especially when she has the savior trait. People love that.
How do you then keep your characters consistent across a series?
I think about their personalities and make sure to include that in each story. For PP, she loses her glasses, she’s insecure, she tries to please others or fit in, and she is very nice and accommodating to whomever she meets. She also uses catch phrases like, “oh magic mirrors,” or “oh fairy dust”.
With Brianna Bright, she’s brave yet clumsy. She will be bumbling her way into heroics throughout the series.
And what about your secondary characters? When you have such a strong main character, how do you make sure your secondary characters have a fully fleshed personality?
With picture books, that can be hard. In Brianna Bright, there’s not a whole lot of secondary characters, except for her dog Pixie. Pixie is her trusty sidekick, always encouraging her. So, she will stay throughout the series. In the next book, she’ll deal with friends and an antagonist. That will be similar to Princess Peepers.
With Princess Peepers, the side characters are the other princesses. They’re the antagonists, but they’re her friends as well, which you see in the third book. They each have a specific thing they like (for example, we have Princess Ponytail who loves horses, and Princess Blackpearl who is a pirate princess). This helps you to instantly understand “who” these characters are without much backstory. Princess Grumbelina is a main antagonist—a spoiled princess, you can tell from her name what she’s about.
What are some tricks you use for defining your characters?
Their personalities are important. Princess Peepers is the classic fool. Brianna Bright is a classic hero. Everyone should understand classic character archetypes. I try to envision at least one archetype for my main character. Much of their personality will drive the story. That’s why it’s called “character driven” story. THAT character drives the story. Without the character, you wouldn’t have a story!
You have a great article that talks all about writing characters. Is there anything you would add now that some time has gone by?
I just want to underscore the fact that you need to keep the focus on children. The main character should be a child—not an adult. And there should be very creative things going on. Not hum drum, every day happenings. I can’t tell you how many manuscripts I’ve seen where the main character is an every day kid, doing every day things and nothing interesting happens. Who wants to read about that? Creativity is key if you want to get your character noticed and stay in the memory of an editor (and then a child once it’s published).
Thank you, Pam. Where can we find your books and you in the future?
I’ll be in Seattle at the Van Vorst library, speaking and signing books on June 29th. And then I’ll be signing FREE books at the International Literacy Conference July 21st. My books are available on any online bookstore. Brianna Bright, Ballerina Knight is out now and I’m so happy to say it’s already hit the #1 best seller’s list for children’s dance books after only three days! It’s amazing!
(Here’s the links for my books: BRIANNA BRIGHT, BALLERINA KNIGHT: https://www.amazon.com/Brianna-Bright-Ballerina-Knight-Calvert/dp/1503951014/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=
My website: http://www.pamcalvert.com
My blog: http://wwwpamcalvert.blogspot.com