When learning to write, having good examples of complex characters to study can be helpful. If you write children’s literature like me, you might get frustrated when all the examples in your workbooks and advice articles skew toward adult stories and themes.
Thankfully, there are plenty of well-written characters in kid’s media. Today, I’m highlighting some of my favorite TV characters when talking about character development in children’s storytelling.
1. The Team Leader
Fred Jones from Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated
Fred is an obsessive trap geek with a habit of becoming singularly-focused. He’s usually seen as a confident guy, and acts as team leader–but Fred’s low self-awareness and emotional fragility is the crux of some major drama throughout the series.
Fred expresses his affection in creative ways, like boosting the security measures in his friend’s homes. These quirks and flaws are expertly used and re-used through the show to build subtext and expected behavioral patterns that make later episodes more believable and compelling.
It’s my observation that Mystery Inc. singled out Fred and Velma as core characters of the show’s ensemble, giving them complex storylines and specific struggles to sort out over the course of its two seasons. The reason I chose to highlight Freddie in this particular post is because the writers could have left him as the stock “cool, confident, super-popular” character and nobody would have known to ask for anything different. Instead, we got a dynamic, funny, sympathetic version of Fred Jones who took us totally by surprise.
2. The Goofy Sidekick
Mable Pines from Gravity Falls
Mable is an eccentric, adventurous, and people-oriented pre-teen. Her goofy hobbies and open display of affection for loved ones make her easy to love and root for throughout the series, even though her adventures are more often of the everyday variety (as opposed to the supernatural ones her brother encounters in the show).
You could argue that Mable is essentially the comic relief sidekick in Gravity Falls, but she’s so well written that you might not even realize it. Unlike a lot of second fiddle characters in children’s television, Mable’s goals often oppose or interrupt Dipper’s. This spot on and age-specific sibling dynamic ends up making both characters relatable and—notably—increases Mable’s impact on the series. She doesn’t simply go along with whatever would be convenient for the plot. She has her own ideas which can and will change the shape of the whole story.
3. The Lovable Enemy
Scorpia from She-Ra and the Princesses of Power
Scorpia is a peppy Force Captain from the evil Horde army. Her friendly enthusiasm and touchy-feely affection for Catra made just about every viewer of the show fall in love at first sight. Her earnest personality may draw you to assume Scorpia is naïve, but her rank implies she’s not someone you should underestimate. Despite being generally treated as a sidekick, Scorpia is a multi-faceted character who is full of surprises that do not disappoint.
Although all the characters in She-Ra’s epic reboot are wonderfully complex and well-written, I chose to talk about Scorpia because it’s especially exciting to find a character so iconic and instantly lovable from their very first appearance. Continuing to develop Scorpia in a way that causes you to fall in love even deeper is, in my opinion, the sign of a writer who knows what they’re about. Scorpia is not a fan favorite by sheer coincidence.
4. The Average Joe
Ash Ketchum from Pokémon XY
Ash is an ambitious Pokémon trainer who travels the world so he can become the Very Best. My favorite thing about Ash is that he’s not the typical hero who’s stronger or better than everyone else. In fact, Ash loses a lot of the battles he takes part in. Making mistakes, looking for creative solutions, and working to become strong makes him an excellent example for viewers of all ages.
These archetypes often end up being pretty milquetoast, but Ash is written as someone viewers can aspire to be more like. He’s respectful, resourceful, and reliable. However, Ash also gets to kick butt, travel the world, and make friends with some of the coolest creatures you could imagine.
5. The Cool Dad
Greg Universe from Steven Universe
Greg is a laidback, free-spirited, ex-rockstar single dad to the titular character in Steven Universe. Greg’s presence in the series continually morphs through the show’s development. He’s a goofball, a worrywart, a hoarder, an amazing vacation planner. Most importantly, he’s there for his kid. To write genuine-feeling family relationships is no easy feat since every family is different… but, for me, Steven and Greg hit a sweet spot.
It’s important to note that authority figures should be incorporated as legit characters in kid’s fiction. They shouldn’t be included purely to mock, outwit, or fight against, but as real and feeling people who have dreams, make mistakes, show affection in their own unique way, and maybe know how to spit a mean watermelon seed.
Greg is a wonderful example of a parent who not only becomes part of the larger story, but makes the show as a whole a better one.
Who are your go-to examples of well-written characters in children’s media? Share in the comments!
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