So yesterday I got to teach a short session on looking at character development.
Why it matters to a story and some techniques young writers can use in order to get to know their casts better.
I figured I’d share with the internet, in case there are any lovely teachers out there who want to use a similar teaching tool with their students.
First off, the most important question we need to ask is this:
Why do characters matter?
We need to know the answer to this question, because then we understand why it is so crucially important that we develop really excellently formed characters to be a part of our stories.
The answer is pretty simple, really. As human beings, we are drawn to things with personality. That’s why we create personalities for our toys when we’re young, or I suppose why people are so addicted to reality TV shows, rather than watching episode after episode of David Attenborough talk about penguins.
We crave personality, things with character, kind of like the Broom in the Micky Mouse Sequence of Fantasia.
Characters are going to be that all important ingredient that draws your reader into your story. They will be the chocolate chips in the cookie of your narrative. Your job as a writer is to design a character that the readers want to read about, who is appealing and interesting, and someone we want to root for as the narrative unfolds.
So why is it important that we get to know our characters?
That’s easy! Who has ever watching a TV Show, or a Movie, or read a book where the characters are either totally paper thin/shallow, or they act in a way that is so inconsistent you’re left scratching your head.
Readers like characters who seem real, who are complex enough to be a living breathing person. It also becomes much easier to write a story when you know your characters SO well, that they seem to lead the narrative, rather than you having to think super hard about how they will feel or react or what they will do with every step of the storyline.
It is really important to develop our characters as much as possible – and not just the main character but the associated cast around them – but what kinds of things do we need to know?
Easy! When it comes down to it, you need to know what your character is like on the Outside, and the Inside.
Outside is the stuff you’re describing about the external of your character.
The simple stuff, like what they look like (hair colour, eye colour, clothes, etc) but also the setting they find themselves in (where they live, what their bedroom is like, their house, any relevant places they will be in) their relationships (friends, enemies, pets, parents) and how they act as a result of their internal character, this one is a little more complicated so, if they’re shy, how does that shyness influence the way they move and talk. Do they whisper, instead of shout, do they tip toe into every room. You need to think about those things, in order to describe them to your reader so the audience can get the clearest possible idea in their heads.
The Inside stuff is a little more complicated.
That’s things like, what do they think about themselves (are they confident, quiet, brave, scared) this will influence how they act. How would you describe their personality? What sorts of things do they like and dislike? What are their talents? What are their Weaknesses? Always stress with your young writers that having a weakness is really important for characters, because it makes them seem real and believable.
If you’re stuck as to what their weakness is, usually you’ll find it is the negative side of their strength. So say a character is really brave and confident, they might also be a little prideful or self important. Maybe they’re a really good thinker, but they could internalise things a little too much.
Another crucial question to know about your character in a story, is what do they want? What in this story do they want, and what are they willing to do to get it?
There are obvious things you need to know like your character’s Name, but I assume the kids will know that!
It is also really important to keep all your character design together. I have heaps of notebooks that I use to capture all of my ideas together, so I know exactly where to find it if I forget something.
Once I absolutely forgot the name of a character’s first wife… if I hadn’t had it written down, it would have been really awkward, and I’d have had to search it out in like… ten million pages of writing.
What I got the kids to do was develop their own super hero. The reason why I did this, was because super heroes have really obvious motivations, they also have obvious strengths, weaknesses, and not to mention two very exclusive appearances.
I’ve attached the worksheets they worked through, you’re welcome to download and use!
There are two different year levels there because the older kids will have a little more range and maturity in their development
Anyway, the kids really enjoyed getting to come up with some characters, and it was a total blast!