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“You enter the extraordinary by way of the ordinary.” ~Frederick Buechner

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Overview Character Development: Part One: Personality Lens

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

Character Development
            Here’s an exercise I’ve often used in workshops. It’s always interesting to see what a variety of perspectives this simple prompt generates. It’s as if everyone takes a verbal snapshot but their lens’ captures different aspects.

            1. Make a simple quick list writing down a character’s gender—age—build—hair (type & color) and core quality, such as honesty, hot temper, shyness, curious etc.

2. Take a separate sheet and across the top write: Name (leave blank)….. is waiting. In a few sentences describe where, attitude, how character is dressed, why or for what character is waiting.

3. Then go a few lines down and write: if you changed this character into an animal what would you choose?

4. Now take the first sheet and pass it to the person on your right. Using the sheet you just received write the paragraph exercise according to the list you’ve now been given. Hand the sheet back.

5. Compare your first interpretation with the other version. Are they similar? Different?

This is just a beginning idea for a character.  Notice that each person can have a different ‘take’ on a character. And that's fine. The reader needs to bring his/her own connections to the story.

However if a particular characteristic is vitally important then remember that one feature must be clearly established. Oscar on Sesame Street is a grouch. If he doesn’t act grouchy then we know something is wrong.

We need to build characters two ways: externally (next blog) and internally (the week after). The most important thing is to get to know your characters inside and out. They are to be characters and not caricatures.

Real characters have good and bad qualities. Pippi is not a ‘real’ child because she never changes. We’ll also look at some classics in a few weeks. It’s important to identify the emotional core in your character. Start by choosing a single core quality to focus on. This is the key point at which the character will change and it comes about as a result of what happens in the story. For ex, a clumsy dog who overcomes his weakness and saves the day.
The key is to provide convincing motivation for any character’s behavior, whether helpful or destructive or contradictory. The protagonist doesn’t always need to be likeable, but must be someone the reader can identify with or at least be sympathetic to. In Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, Max begins in a temper tantrum and creates “havoc”.

Remember even the ‘bad’ characters believe they’re right. So as you develop your main characters look at them from all camera angles behavior wise.

Action Steps:

      Return to the journal sheet and do this prompt from your character’s perspective. Keep in mind that every thing you can write for a journal entry for yourself can also be written as a journal entry for your character.

  1. If you had to choose a color to describe you today what would it be? 
  1. Then write a brief description of why?
  1. Now write a few lines about whether this is a color you like or don’t or etc. i.e. how do you feel about feeling this way today?
  1. If you had to share this ‘color’ on your first day of school would you feel good or nervous? 
  1. Set up a journal for your main character and whenever you have a few minutes to brainstorm—write up a memory or question from their perspective.

Share: How would you personally feel if you were your character sharing on the first day of school?

Read deep, marcy

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