Character development – variations on known writing activities

HSC English can be intensely focused on analytical writing and it is up to us to embed creative writing opportunities into all modules rather than fixating on the Area of Study with it’s examinable imaginative writing component.

With the release of the new Stage 6 English Syllabus, I have been reflecting on my teaching practice in terms of writing. This is relevant to potential programming possibilities through the Year 11 Common Module ‘Read to Write’ and the Year 12 ‘Craft of Writing’. My recent and regular Writing Teachers meetings have also revived my own interest in the art and craft of writing, and I have noticed an increase in my own creativity: in using words, thinking laterally and problem solving. Without explicitly explaining these benefits to students, I know that offering more creative writing will make positive changes and support the development of a growth mindset.

To this end, we often write for the sake of writing, with an open expectation or link to current study. Students understand that I will make a direct link to a specific aspect of narrative writing, and this weeks lesson was devoted to character development.

We begin with word warm-ups, and have previously used the ‘twenty questions’ strategy that is aimed at creating rounded, rather than flat, characters. We took inspiration from the prescribed text we have been studying: Elissa Down’s The Black Balloon for Standard Module C: Texts and Society – Elective 1: Exploring Interactions.

So we

  • Thought of a minor character, one who has not been named, that displays a typical social bystander behaviour, or who openly disapproves of Charlie’s disability
  • Write six words to describe that character
  • Write six more to explore their emotional position or attitude

After sharing, students wrote answers n first person as continuous sentences to respond to these questions:

  1. What is you name?
  2. What is your age?
  3. What do you do for work?
  4. Are you happy in your work?
  5. How do you communicate this to others?
  6. What are your ambitions?
  7. Who was the lst person to say that they loved you?
  8. Were you expecting this interaction?
  9. What keeps you awake at night?
  10. Do you have nay pets?
  11. How do you interact with pet owners?
  12. When did you last lie, and why?
  13. How did you communicate this lie?
  14. What do you fear most?
  15. How is this fear revealed to others?

Students were instructed to

  • Look back over your writing: is your character likable? Would they evoke sympathy? Do you dislike your character?
  • Did anyone find that they ‘strayed’ away from who they originally thought their character would be?

Next, they were asked to choose one sentence or phrase that revealed a vulnerability of their character. This was gifted to the person on their left.

This gift became the basis of a second character. After a moment of reflection, students then wrote a list poem, or a poem catalogue of characteristics, of up to ten lines, in first person using

I am …

at the beginning of each line. For example

I am a girl who loves walking my dog after midnight

I am the person that runs away from difficulty

I am a whinger who is never satisfied

So, now each student had two characters to write into an interaction. First, choose a public setting from the film – the supermarket, hospital, school, swimming pool, concert, suburban street – and visualise specific details. Ask yourself if these people are meeting for the first time, are acquaintances or are well known to each other.

  • Write one word about this setting as the title
  • Open this interaction with dialogue: one line from each character
  • Write three or so lines to briefly describe the setting
  • Begin a new line, a separate sentence, with onomatopoeia that shifts the tone of this encounter
  • Write a longer interaction with a focus on non-verbal communication that may contain dialogue

Students then shared this writing with a partner and read their dialogue aloud. Each was asked to provide feedback and consider whether the dialogue was believable. Did it

  • make sense?
  • pique interest?
  • use truncated sentences?
  • contain ellipses?
  • use other punctuation?
  • include contractions?
  • have colloquial language?

I know it’s been a successful lesson when students keep talking about their writing, discussing characters and interactions as they leave the room after class.

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