Character Building Exercises: from NCTE2017, Our Mighty Girls Panel

Hi Writers and Teachers!

Character is the foundation of story! The following exercises can help you understand all your characters–from the POV character to the antagonist and ally–all from the inside out! Please feel free to share with friends! And let us know if they work for you!

WHO ARE YOU?

Divide participants into pairs. Have each one ask the other: WHO ARE YOU five times each. Suggest answering briefly–even with just one word. Then switch partners and repeat. Then switch partners and repeat again. Remind everyone that they can’t use the same answer twice. When they are done, discuss how we reveal truths about ourselves. What were the easiest answers? What were the hardest? What made you uncomfortable? What did you learn at each interaction? You can use this activity to help create a new character or to help understand a character in a book–to reveal motivation and emotion behind action and yearning. I often do this exercise before writing time begins. The deeper I go, the more squirmy I feel–but I also get closer to my characters’ heart and fear.

 

COMPOSE A DOSSIER

Act like a spy! What does this person look like? Hair, eyes, facial features, posture, mannerisms, toes pointing in, makeup, stray hair to push aside, veins in arms, fingernails, tummy, frowning, smiling, yawning, sneezing, skipping. Clothes, perfume, socks, hair ribbons, jewelry, shoes. Act like a detective or an FBI agent. Take note of every detail.

Then follow your character for a day. Where does she go? Who does she talk to? What conclusions can you draw from her actions? How do you know when someone is happy? Sad? Scared? Nervous?

START WITH PLACE: Make a memory map!

Draw a map of your house or your character’s house or neighborhood. What important events happened? Write them down on the map! Use them for stories!

 

Want to go further?

 

MAKE A MAP OF YOUR HEART!

Students receive a pre-drawn heart and then fill it in with “village of cats”, “ cousins river”, “pizza mountains”, –whatever they cherish. They can also put in things they dislike or fear like “dark forest of hairy spiders” or “bog of the big sister”.

 

YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT!

What is your favorite food? How do you prepare it? What does it say about you? Who would you like to share it with?

 

STORY SOUP

As a class, choose two characters, one adjective, one place, and action, and one exclamation. Allow everyone to separately use those elements to create a story. Then share!

 

TELL A STORY IN SIX FRAMES

Draw six squares.

For each square, write down ONE MAJOR ACTION and whatever your main character is feeling. Draw a picture for each frame. Then share your stories!

Suggestions: What is your earliest memory? Tell a story where you learned something surprising. Or tell a scary story. Or one that always makes you laugh.

ADVICE COLUMN

Using the voice of a favorite character, how would you answer questions kids have on dealing with friends, family and/or school? Also: what questions might your favorite characters ask an advice columnist?

 

OUR MIGHTY GIRLS PANELISTS:

Lesley Burnap

Twitter: @LBurnap90

 

Crystal Allen

http://www.crystalallenbooks.com, Twitter: @rcpallen

 

Sarah Aronson

http://www.saraharonson.com, Twitter: @sarah_aronson

 

Kate Hannigan

http://www.katesbooks.com, Twitter: @KateChicago

 

Tricia Springstubb

http://www.triciaspringstubb.com, Twitter: @springstubb

 

 

 

 

Special thanks to Lesley Burnap for moderating and guiding this panel.

And to NCTE for welcoming us to this conference to talk about the power of girls!                              

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