by Zachariah OHora (from 2013)

Writing is hard work. Coming up with good characters can be even harder. The market for picture books (at least this moment) is all about character-driven stories.

When I’m trying to come up with a fresh book idea and there isn’t one to steal from my kids, I start with a character.

I’ve developed a method that is very simple. Even if you don’t draw you can fake it.

It’s called “Pump Your Character” ™.

In a nutshell it works like this…

(Tara’s note: click each image to see it in its full-sized glory!)


Good! You are on your way. If you are feeling confident about this simple version, move on to the advanced version.


Say you are having trouble picking an animal. Maybe you hate animals? If so, try writing dystopian YA.

If you love animals but just can’t decide go to or even better

Pick an animal and refer to the charts above to “Pump Your Character” ™.

If done right your character will write or reveal it’s own story. All you have to do is be open to hearing it. Don’t be afraid to use peoples own prejudices and expectations.

You might be surprised. Here’s an example.


Sometimes I get lucky. Real life provides me with a story and character idea and they almost write themselves. NO FITS NILSON! was one of those.


Good luck Pumping Your Character!

Zachariah OHora is the illustrator of the New York Times best seller Wolfie the Bunny. His debut as an author, Stop Snoring Bernard! won the 2011 Society of Illustrators Founders Award and was the 2012 State of PA Dept of Ed One book. His follow up, No Fits Nilson! was named the Huffington Post Best Children’s Book of 2013, a Kirkus Best Picture Book of 2013, a New York Public Library Book for Reading and Sharing and was given the PALA Carolyn W. Field Award. His book My Cousin Momo! was named by the Boston Globe a Best Picture Book of 2015 and was a Junior Library Guild Selection. His latest book The Not So Quiet Library hits shelves July 19th. He lives and works in Narberth, PA with his wife, two sons and two cats. Visit him at

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