I tell my students that as writers, they want their reader to understand and identify with the characters in the story. The more familiar the reader is with the characters, the more they connect and invest in the story. In order to write about a character, it is important that the author knows and understands all aspects of the character he/she is writing about.
I use two strategies to help my students bring their characters to life in their writing.
1) Character Cards
On notecards, my students create Character Cards (almost like baseball cards) for each of the main characters in their story.
I encourage my students to have a maximum of three main characters in their writing. Since I make them create their character cards prior to beginning their narratives, students are more inclined to have fewer characters.
On the Character Cards, students write the name of the character large and at the top. They include the character’s age, a description of their appearance, personality, likes and dislikes. This gives the author a clear picture of the character they are writing about. Being descriptive about their character also provides them with more details to include in their narrative writing.
If students have extra time (or room on their cards), they can draw an illustration of their characters.
***I also use these same Character Cards with our novels. I like for the students to see that characters are well developed in the novels we are reading and their appearance and personality is not just written as a list. Instead, character description and development is continued throughout the story. It is good for students to make this connection with what they are reading so they can link it to what they are writing,
2) Character Descriptive Questions & Sentence Starters
In addition to the Character Cards, I provide a list of Character Descriptive Questions. These guide the students when they write about a character. Additionally, they offer ideas if a student needs to include more descriptive detail.
Character Descriptive Questions Include:
What does the character look like (height, hair, eyes, features)?
How does the character dress (what is he/she wearing)?
How does he/she move (slow, quickly)?
How does he/she seem to feel (happy, annoyed, bored)?
Are there any special details you notice about your character’s appearance (wears cowboy boots, missing a tooth, thick eye brows)?
Are there any other distinguishing characteristics (talks fast, chews with mouth open, likes to wink)?
Additionally, I provide my students with a range of sentence starters to choose from or to use inspiration or a reference guide. These provide the students with alternatives to simply listing the descriptive details.
Sentence Starter Examples:
- As ___________________ entered the room ___________________________.
- His/her hair ______________________________.
- I noticed his/her eyes ___________________________________.
- On his/her body he wore _____________________.
- As he/she _________________ moved around the room _________________.
- It was obvious he/she felt _________________ by the way he/she ______________.
- I was surprised by his/her ___________________________________________.
These tools help students bring their characters to life in their writing. Instead of just giving a character’s name, students are encouraged to develop a characters’ own style and personality.
Let me know if these tips help your students improve their character development in their writing.