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Student creative writers must develop unique and colorful characters to enliven their writing. Each character must be consistent to itself and distinct from the others. This may seem like a daunting task to young writers. You can help your writing students succeed by giving them a written exercise that acting students often use. Writing students must complete one of these exercises for each character in their story.
Present these questions as a worksheet, and go over them in class. You can assign the first step as homework. The students must answer the questions for themselves -- not for their characters. Once they have written down their own answers (in the first person,) it will be easier for them to formulate answers in the voices of their characters.
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I have provided sample answers in the voice of a high school student.
WHO AM I?
I am a high school sophomore. I am a dedicated athlete and on the gymnastics team. I am a girl with lots of friends but no boyfriend. I am a big Phish fan. I am enrolled in honors algebra, but am terrible at algebra.
WHAT AM I DOING?
I am sitting at my desk in my room, and staring at my algebra homework.
WHAT TIME IS IT? (year, season, day, minute, atmosphere)
6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, November 19, 2008. Thanksgiving is next week. I'm looking forward to it because of the days off from school.
It is starting to get very cold outside, and it is a little windy today. Will probably rain tomorrow. I'm wearing a fleece sweater and my parents started a nice fire in the wood-burning stove.
WHERE AM I?
Home in our house where we live in Vermont. I am upstairs, in my bedroom, sitting at my L-shaped desk in the corner. My desk is near the window, but I can't see much with the lights on because it is dark outside already. There is a vent in my floor though which I can feel the heat from the stove. And Phish is playing on my stereo over on the bookcase.
WHAT SURROUNDS ME?
My open algebra book and my empty notebook. Three pencils and a big, pink eraser. The window if I look up. My desk lamp is to my right at the corner of my L-shaped desk, and if I turn to face the other part of my desk I will be facing my computer.My backpack is on the floor under the computer. To my left is a throw rug and then my ceiling-high bookshelves. They are full of my books, three gymnastics trophies, my CD's and stereo equipment. Phish music is filling my room.
The vent is in the middle of the floor behind me. My bed is the rest of the way across the room behind me and a quilt decorates the wall over my bed. Both of my cats, Coco and Marsh, are sleeping on my pillows.
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WHAT ARE THE CIRCUMSTANCES? (past/present/future)
I just had a yummy dinner and came upstairs to do my homework. I put the music on so I can listen while I study. I need to have these algebra problems finished by 7:00 because my friend Carla is coming over to help me, but I have to try these problems first. Carla is excellent at algebra.
WHAT IS MY RELATIONSHIP TO...?
To Carla: She is my best friend from gradeschool. She has always been good at math. She'll be here at 7:00 to go over these problems with me, but I have to have tried to do them first.
To Algebra: It's really difficult but I want to understand it. I hate giving up.
To Phish: The music relaxes me.
WHAT DO I WANT?
Life goals: To be a doctor someday.
Main Objective: To figure out how to do these algebra problems and to show Carla that I can do it.
Immediate Objective: To get some answers onto this paper.
WHAT IS IN MY WAY?
Time: I feel rushed because I only have half an hour before Carla gets here.
Attitude: I'm not having fun. My mechanical pencil is out of lead and now I've lost my eraser. I'm not sure anymore which page in my algebra book I am supposed to do.
Distraction: I probably will concentrate better without the music.
WHAT DO I DO TO GET WHAT I WANT?
I get up and stretch. I turn off the music. I look up my homework notes to see which algebra page to work on. I rummage in my backpack and find a new pencil with a good eraser. I sit at my desk and slowly go through each problem until I am finished.
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Being able to answer these questions for any character in any situation is a wonderful skill for the creative writer to develop. These questions will help clarify motivations and distinct qualities between characters, and help the writer keep each character consistent, colorful, and interesting.