When fiction writers start new projects, they probably have an idea of who their main characters might be. They might know the story will feature a brave science fiction hero, an insecure high school student or a conceited movie star, but the real question is how to develop these ideas into people that will become real to readers. For middle school student writers, the process is no different. Knowing the major elements of characterization and how to brainstorm ideas can help you breathe life into the people that populate your story.
When you meet somebody new, the first thing you probably notice is his appearance. Similarly, when readers pick up your story, your character's physical description will reveal his attitude, tastes and social class. For example, a character who goes out in public wearing pajamas presents a different image than someone who won't leave the house without makeup. To brainstorm, students can write physical traits on slips of paper, such as "designer clothing," "balding" or "a broken arm." They can then randomly choose three traits for their character sketches, considering what kind of person might have these attributes.
As F. Scott Fitzgerald put it, "Action is character." A character's behavior and mannerisms can reveal a lot about his personality. For example, someone who hugs people every time he sees them would strike readers differently than someone who avoids eye contact and crowds. To come up with character behaviors, students can brainstorm a list of habits their characters could have, like compulsively checking their text messages, chewing their nails or rolling their eyes. Then, students can write brief character biographies that provide an explanation for where those habits come from.
Another important point of character development is where a character spends most of his time. If your character can always be found feeding the ducks at the park, it might show that he likes private time out in nature; if he is frequently out in the garage working on her truck, it reveals that he is mechanically minded and likes putting things together. Students can brainstorm ideas of places that might be important to their characters. Then, they can choose one and write the story of why that place is so significant.
Everybody has activities, beliefs and entertainment tastes that are important to them. A character's favorite things can reveal a lot about his personality; for example, someone who blasts classical music out of his car window is very different from someone who walks around listening to heavy metal through headphones. Students can explore their characters' likes and dislikes by creating fictional social networking profiles. Including details such as occupation, hobbies, entertainment tastes and favorite celebrities can reveal a lot about the characters' interests and aversions.
Effect on Others
The way people react to a character can also reveal a lot about him. If the character is extremely friendly, some people might eagerly desire his company; if he constantly dominates the conversation with details about his own life, they might find him self-centered. To practice, students can imagine that their characters have asked them to write recommendation letters for jobs they are applying to. Based on what they have brainstormed so far, they can write letters either recommending the characters or discouraging the employers from hiring them, giving specific examples of why.
Developing a fictional character from an idea to a larger sketch can easily lead to the creation of a story with that character as the star. All of the brainstormed character traits could potentially incite conflict; for example, if a character can't go anywhere without talking about his poodle and showing pictures to people, it might lead someone to kidnap his dog in order to make him stop. Based on their brainstorming, students can make a list of what situations their characters could find themselves in that would make for intriguing plots.
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