CHAPTER BOOK KNOWHOW with Emma Finlayson-Palmer (part 3)

We hear a lot about picture books, middle grade and young adult, but what about younger fiction? SCBWI's Emma Finlayson-Palmer, author of forthcoming Autumn Moonbeam: Dance Magic, investigates in this three-part series. 

Part three: Writing chapter book characters

Characters can be anything and anyone you want them to be. Make them engaging and relatable, so younger readers can see themselves in them. Make them interesting with wants/goals, flaws and needs, unique voices. Give them memorable back stories that really shape who they are and what they choose to do and say. 


Ideally you want your chapter book main character(s) to be eight, or no older than nine. Readers want someone to aspire to be, or can imagine being in their place.


Dialogue is something that can really make your character stand out. Do they have a distinct style and way of speaking that sets them apart from other characters? Secondary characters also need their own unique voices. Ideally you want to get to a stage where you’d know who was talking without the need for dialogue tags.

Secondary characters

Never underestimate the power of a great cast of secondary characters. They aren’t just there to prop up the main character, they have their own history and goals and can really add some interesting aspects to your story. 


You can really have some fun with character creation. I always have a soft spot for my antagonists, and find them some of the most fun characters to write. Always remember that no character is completely evil, they need depth too, I’m not sure who first said it, but everyone is the hero of their own story.

The characters in these books stand out and make young readers care for them

Characters that will keep readers invested in their journey and wanting to keep coming back to their world are ones that will make agents and publishers take interest.

Think about some of the characters you’ve loved in stories and on TV. What is it about them that makes you want to keep reading/watching? Why do you care about them?

A few characters I feel really stand out in recent releases are…

Lottie Luna by Vivian French

Kitty in Paula Harrison’s series

Scribble Witch by Inky Willis

A wide range of diverse and inclusive characters makes for an immersive story that children will want to come back to time and time again.

* Header illustration by Heidi Cannon


Emma Finlayson-Palmer is an autistic, working class writer who lives in the West Midlands with her husband and a multitude of children, cats and chickens. Autumn Moonbeam: Dance Magic, came out on 7th July by UCLan in 2022. The second book will follow in October 2022. Emma runs #ukteenchat, a writing themed chat on Twitter, and edits, mentors and reads competition entries for #WriteMentor and also reads flash fiction entries for Retreat West. She’s also one half of Word Witches, as a children’s fiction editor.



Jo E Verrill is an enthusiastic writer of humorous books for children, an advertising and broadcasting standards consultant and Words & Pictures’ KnowHow editor. 

Got an idea for KnowHow, or a subject you’d like to hear more on? Let us know at

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