Where should children's writers get all their crazy ideas from? SCBWI's Emma Finlayson-Palmer, author of Autumn Moonbeam: Dance Magic, investigates in this three-part series. 

Part two: people watching

Have you ever sat on public transport and noticed someone sat nearby and imagined their whole life story? Before you know it, you feel like you know them really well, but you might not have even made eye contact, or ever see them again. I do this all the time and it can be a lot of fun for helping you create characters, especially when sometimes we might have trouble imagining what someone looks like.

I’m a very visual person so a lot of my character building is through images. I use the Pinterest app to collect lots of pictures together for interesting looking characters, or the setting to place them in, especially personal things such as their room. It’s really useful to collect images, as the things they hold dear offer up nuggets of information about those characters and what motivates them. Just don’t end up down the Pinterest worm hole for hours! Always useful to set a timer to allocate yourself a specific amount of time to research in cases like this.

Scrapbooks and journals to store cuttings from magazines, or make notes of people you’ve seen when you’re out and about, are essential for me. Recently I’ve even started collecting the scratch and sniff type patches from perfumes and aftershaves in catalogues. Sometimes the aroma might spark an idea of a particular character or scene. Certain odours can trigger our own memories which may help with setting a more vivid scene, or even be the start of a whole new story!

You could even interview your characters. What would they do if they were under interrogation? How would they react to suddenly being put in a whole new setting? Ask the what if? Questions that lead to finding out things about your characters that you might not know about them.

Inspiration for characters is everywhere, perhaps start a notebook to jot down ideas as you people watch or overhear snippets of conversation, you never know where your next character might come from!

*Header image: In-house collaboration between Ell Rose and Tita Berredo


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. Author of the Autumn Moonbeam series, including Dance Magic and Spooky Sleepover, published by UCLan in 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. Find Emma on Twitter @FinlaysonPalmer



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 knowhow@britishscbwi.org


Ell Rose is the Illustration Features Editor of Words & Pictures. Contact them at illustrators@britishscbwi.org


Tita Berredo is the Illustrator Coordinator of SCBWI British Isles and the Art Director of Words & Pictures. Contact her at: illuscoordinator@britishscbwi.org

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