by Brave Writer instructor Karen O’Connor
Have you noticed that when your children are glued to a well-written story you can hardly pry them away for a meal? They get totally caught up in the lives of the characters and are often inspired to create stories of their own. You can help your kids breathe life into their story characters with a few simple guidelines.
Encourage children to:
1. Get to know their characters intimately. ‘Live’ with these boys and girls as they would a sibling or best friend. Have them create a short profile of each character. What does he like to eat? What games does she enjoy playing? What style of clothing does he choose? What are her habits and hobbies? What is he afraid of? Why is she so bossy?
2. Assign each character a distinguishing characteristic or core quality. For example, in one story, Jasmine is a ‘walking dictionary’ as her brother calls her. She has taken it upon herself to learn at least one new word each day starting with the letter A. Your son or daughter might create a character with a special talent or a personality trait that attracts attention.
3. Create multi-level characters. Talk with your children about the physical appearance, emotional makeup, and mental capacity of their characters. Suppose one of the girls is short for her age, quick-witted, and yet embarrassed to show her real feelings. On the other hand, imagine a male character who is “tall, dark, and handsome”—and that’s it. A reader might have a hard time relating to such a stereotype. Talk about what would help readers relate to the character.
4. Avoid labels. (Sue was sad. Andy was happy). Flat statements such as these rob the reader of drawing his own conclusions based on what the characters do. Remind your kids to show rather than explain. For example: Sue dropped to the floor and sobbed. Andy dashed through the door waving his first-place ribbon. Bring the characters on stage and let them talk and act for themselves.
5. Choose a name that helps to identify and individualize the characters. For instance, Gabby could be a cute nickname for a talkative boy whose given name is Gilbert. A striking and to the point name, like Dot or Liz, might work for a tough loudmouth.
6. Study characters that catch your children’s interest in the books they read. What makes them special? What is memorable about them? Creating characters of depth and substance takes time and practice. But all the effort is worth it to hear from a happy reader that their story characters are ‘true to life.’