Friday, November 27, 2009

creating a character

Last Friday, Marj Watkins and I did an author/illustrator presentation for Family and Book Fair night at our local elementary school. The idea, based on needs expressed by a 5th grade teacher, was to do a mini-class on character development in writing. She suggested we teach children how to "show" a character's traits rather than "telling" about them when we write stories, i.e. " Laura sang as she helped her mother wash the dishes" rather than "Laura always did her chores cheerfully", or "Laura was a good girl. She always helped her mother."
My part was to support Marj, writer of the Rotaida books, and possibly to teach children a bit about how an illustrator approaches showing who a character is. We each spent two days preparing, in a very logical way, with illustrations and sample sentences. At the last minute, I created a penciled figure children could draw clothing on to illustrate a character of their own, and tossed in my runestone stamps, for some good old hands on activities. 
Of course, we didn't exactly get to do our mini-class. Neither of us works quite as logically as we were trying to teach, and the children went straight to the hands on activities. THEY didn't want something that smacked of academics once school was out! As I joined them in creating a character, I tossed aside the step by step instruction handout I had created and let my character just become who it would as I drew, just as the children were doing.
I think there is a place for both ways of working, depending on where you are in the project: from the inside (letting the character develop as you write or draw) or from the outside (determining the person's character traits and then deciding how to write about or draw the person).

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