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Making Characters Come Alive

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins Stephanie Perkins. Copyright © 2010. Used with permission of Dutton Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group.
I liked this book.  A lot. It’s sweet and charming, and makes me realize that maybe there’s a part of me that’s a hopeless romantic.  After I read it, I had to track down the author and was pleased to find her website, blog, and Twitter feed. The thing that stuck with me the most were the characters. They seemed real to me. Stephanie made them come alive. As I’ve studied Anna and the French Kiss, I’ve learned some things about character development.
  1. Dialogue reveals a lot about a character. Dialogue is an essential tool in building a character. I think it would be valuable to compare the way different characters talk with kids. Now that students are learning about adding dialogue in primary grades, it is important for intermediate and secondary teachers to teach how to lift the level of dialogue. Teaching students to use dialogue as a means of characterization is one way to do this.
  2. Tension stems from the wants, hopes, desires, and dreams of characters. When characters don’t get these things (but they might be able to eventually), then tension builds. Tension is essential to keep readers reading. Tension becomes really palpable when the character almost gets what she wants.
  3. Setting makes a story come alive. This story is set in Paris. Although I’ve never been there for real, I feel like I’ve visited after reading Anna and the French Kiss. It’s important to teach young writers to select setting details that will pull the reader into the story. The way the characters acted in this setting, made me feel the energy of Paris. I’m beginning to notice how setting impacts characters in big ways. I think it would be good to explore this idea with some more experienced writers in our classrooms.
Although it may be a surprise to some that I’m a little bit of a hopeless romantic, it will come as NO surprise that I love reading about authors’ writing processes. Every time I find information on how a writer works, I feel like I struck gold. Stephanie’s most recent post about her writing process is no exception.
As teachers of writers, I think it is important we learn, understand, and accept the endless possibilities of how writing happens. The more we learn about how other writers work, the better suited we are to help students become stronger writers. If you have a few minutes, take some time to read about Stephanie’s process. (And if you have a few more minutes, check out her book, Anna and the French Kiss.)

Ruth Ayres View All

Unhurried. Finding the magic in the middle of living. Capturing a life of ridiculous grace + raw stories.

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