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Teacher’s guide chapter 10: Getting into Character

Lectures & discussions

10.1 Developing your character

You’ll probably want to assign this essay as a homework assignment and use your class time to concentrate on the activity. Review the points of the essay by mentioning different well-known or fictional characters and asking students to decide which kind of character they are: archetypical, naturalistic, or intermediate. Have them discuss and defend their positions and encourage them to question the distinctions we have proposed in the essay if they are skeptical.


Play your cards right

It's well worth your while to go through the trouble of getting some different-colored index cards and writing out all the words in Appendix C. We cut the cards in half to save paper and make them easier to shuffle and hand out. Part two of the activity can take up more or less time depending on how much backstory you want students to develop for their characters. For part three we encourage you to mix your class up; don't just let friends pair up together. Everyone will find it more rewarding and enlightening when students with different sensibilities team up. Review the role of the spark in the narrative arc structure as explained in Chapter 9. You might hold up two or three spark cards and have the class spin out a few possible story situations suggested by each card. Note that the spark cards can be events (a death in the family) or props (a mysterious box, a toy gun). In the former case, students just need to decide who died and what problem that causes for their two characters whereas in the latter case they may need to do a bit more elaboration to make the prop the cause of the spark of the story. It's easy for students to lose sight of the function of the spark, so they may need some prodding. Part four is where your class will learn the most about how characters and story work together—it's also the most fun part. Tell your students that they are the editorial board of an important publisher (or Hollywood producers, or the board of the Xeric Foundation) and that based on their classmates' pitches, they are going to give a thumbs up or down to the stories. After each pitch, have the rest of the class vote with a show of hands. Make them defend their rejection or acceptance of the pitch. Don't let them be too nice and don't let them be suckered by a funny or unusual premise if it's not followed through with a solid narrative arc. By the same token, if they are dismissing a story pitch simply because it's a genre they don't care for, make them set aside their biases and judge the work in terms of its narrative arc and characters.

Using drawing to help develop characters

Bring in your own sketches for characters or material from books and the web and discuss the visual process of developing a character. How does the drawing style influence the personality of an invented character?

Further reading

There is no Further reading for this chapter

Character pin-ups for your short story

Refer back to the sidebar, "Using drawing to help develop characters" for more examples of character sketches. Also look for any good examples that students may have produced during the activity "Play your cards right." Make sure they understand that their three variations can be much more dramatically different in style and position than Jessica's examples in the book, which are in a relatively narrow range.

Finish your short story thumbs

We suggest breaking the thumbnail assignment over two class sessions because in Chapter 9 the most important thing is that they nail down the narrative arc and story details. You may well want them to concentrate on the story outline only in Chapter 9 and save assigning the thumbnails until now, after you've had a chance to critique their story ideas.

Character mash-up

If you have time for it, this is a great activity for getting students to approach character design visually. Specifically, it makes them think about how comics characters evolve from previous styles and influences. It's also a fun, quick activity that can liven up the group if they seem like they need a little extra stimulation. The best place to do this is in a library with a good, varied collection of comics. Barring that, you could bring in a pile of various anthologies, or have students bring comics in, and then trade them around. An interesting discussion could come out of this activity regarding influence, imitation, and plagiarism.

Chapter 10: Character pin-ups for your short story

Use this critique especially to talk about how different sketches express ideas of character visually. Focus on subtle differences in hair style, costume, posture, and drawing style. Click on the links below to see examples of student homework with some comments by Matt and Jessica.

Chapter 10: Finish your short story thumbs

Ideally you would have students go straight to their desks after the crit and make any changes you discussed. We often critique one small group of students while the rest work on their thumbs or pencils. Revising thumbs is listed as part of the Chapter 11 homework, but if you can get them to do it in class they'll be in much better shape to start penciling. This is a really good time to drive home the concept of the narrative arc. Make students point out how it works (or not) in each thumbnail. Talk about how different the stories are while still using the basic structure of the narrative arc. Following, two sets of examples, "Arid Ignition," and "Ghost Story."