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Sidewriting gives me ammo in a story to write a more deeply felt and developed emotional story.

The sidewriting exercise I rely on most is really simple. I write a messy, gossipy version of my story (or scene or conflict). I handwrite it, like it’s a note I might pass in class, and I allow myself plenty of gossipy digressions. . . . I’ve developed a kind of outlining process I love, but sometimes I really crave the structure of gossip, the way it’s built on cause and effect.

I’ve always found it fun to do small bits of sidewriting because it feels like a novelty. Like, when someone asks you what your character would be for Halloween, or what sorts of TV shows they watch, it’s fun to think about that sort of thing.

I always start with character. For me, that’s the spark that makes me want to write. Who is this person in my head? What are they grappling with? What do they need to figure out (about themselves and/or life in general)? To answer these questions, I write scenes about them and sometimes in their voice.

I ask you: What questions do you need to ask your characters? If that feels too challenging, Walter Dean Myers’s advice in Just Write: Here’s How! is to “Come up with a bunch of questions you might want to ask about someone you just met in real life.”

In her early chapter book series Layla and the Bots, Vicky Fang manages to incorporate STEM topics, design thinking, AND interesting characters, all in just over 1500 words each. Let’s take a look at techniques she uses to create interesting and memorable characters.

Through a combination of humor, culture, warmth and language, Hernandez uses voice to make his characters unforgettable and his novel hard to put down.

Lots of classic books have two main characters–Frog and Toad, Max and Ruby, Elephant and Piggie. I bet you can name some other favorites too. These stories work well, especially in a series, because the differing personalities create built-in conflict. In order to figure out how to approach a story with two main characters, let’s look at Kristen Mai Giang’s Ginger and Chrysanthemum, illustrated by Shirley Chan, a contemporary story of two cousins who love each other but don’t always get along.

This particular inspiration was already the second or third version of this story, which I knew I wanted to be about girls and friendship. In previous versions, they weren’t cousins. And for each version, I did literally dozens of revisions.

For Ginger and Chrysanthemum, part of that was due to the submission process, during which agents and editors asked to see widely varying changes. The characters of these hot-and-cold cousins never changed once they were born, though, and it wasn’t until then that the story began to attract attention.

Sometimes in planning a story, you might find that the character’s desire is a little too abstract, or that their desire isn’t really something they can affect. There is a solution: a controlling belief.