Sunday, January 16, 2011

IT’S IN THE BAG-- FINDING ORIGINAL CHARACTER TRAITS




How is writing a children’s book like taking one of my final exams?

The answer………..”It’s in the Bag!”

In my career as a teacher educator, training prospective Elementary and Pre-K teachers, I always dreamt up creative ways to test their knowledge. Students wrote children’s plays and then acted in them. They had to make the costumes and scenery as well as teach the children their singing and dancing roles. But that was a group exam.

Individual exams were quite different. Each student sat at table. Upon that table was a large, black plastic big filled objects unknown to them (but everyone had a variation of the same materials)………paper towel tubes, hand puppets, picture books, feathers, beads, crepe paper streamers, music, clean milk and egg cartons etc….

The assignment:  Create a specific lesson as designated on the board in front of the classroom. (Science, Social Studies, Math, Art etc….) which included all teaching tools and materials.

The lesson would then be taught to the children in the Pre-K the following week.

So how is that final exam like writing a book?

What if the items in the bag belonged to the characters in your story? Or what if you had to write a story based on what was in the bag?

Maybe Penny Pig always wore a feather headband…….thus becoming Miss Piggy.

Or a tube of lipstick might belong to a “mean girl” or a “crazy mother.”

A wooden spoon might be used as a grandmother’s choice of discipline, or the utensil, which mixed the sweetest pancake batter.

The next time you need unusual traits or possessions for your characters have a grab bag exchange with your crit partners. Each one should bring a bag filled with various found items. Exchange the bags. Then let your imagination run with the contents. You can create memorable or unusual character traits from the actual objects in the bag, rather than thinking up quirky attributes in your head.

Concrete examples always work better than abstract ones.

Try it. Grab your inspiration where you can. The more unusual, the better.

Your next novel idea might be “in the bag!” J





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