Developing a Character (SOLSC – Day #2)

Obviously, the main character of a story drives the story, but the supporting characters are equally (sometimes more) important.  This aspect of the story has trickled into every ELA reading lesson/mini-lesson that I have taught this school year (even when I don’t mean for it to trickle in).  Over the past few weeks, this has been on my mind every time that I sit down to write my own stories, so after school on Friday, I grabbed all of my reading lessons and reviewed them as a writer (not a teacher).

I have always found that when the students are feeling connected to the supporting characters they enjoy the story.  For example, we are currently reading Glory Be, and the students can make connections to the main character, but every discussion goes back to Jesslyn (older sister), Frankie (best friend), Laura (new friend), or Emma (maid).  One of my favorite character/story plot activities is to ask the students: What would the main character be like without one of the supporting characters (example from yesterday – Emma)?  The students will make a list (usually long if the characters are strong) of the good and bad things that the main character would (or wouldn’t) have if the supporting character were not in the story.

So, I went back into my own stories.  I asked myself questions: Are my supporting characters strong enough?  Does my main character truly need every character in the story?  Do the supporting characters that make only short appearances in my story actually have a big impact on my main character (I was thinking about a character like Emma in Glory Be)?  Is my main character moved through the story by the supporting characters? 

I found that I have work to do.:)  But, I was surprised to find that some of my supporting characters are solid.  At the end of the school year, I let me students read one of my middle-grade story manuscripts (in PDF form).  This May, I have decided to engage the students in my lessons on developing a character (especially the supporting characters).  I will be interested to find whether they connect to the supporting characters and the depth with which they connect.  Honestly, I am a bit nervous, but if they don’t connect, my writing goal for summer vacation can be to develop my supporting characters.


7 thoughts on “Developing a Character (SOLSC – Day #2)

  1. I enjoy reading as you toggle back and forth between your teaching self and your self as a writer. I am sure it is a very powerful lesson whenever you share your own writing for student reaction. You are showing the vulnerability we constantly expect of them. Good for you.
    This piece also reminds me about the power of supporting characters in the movies, and the Oscars! Often those are the characters and actors I find I care about the most.

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  2. I agree. I think my students get hooked when we have a read aloud because they have a connection to the main character. One of my favorite books is Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper. I read that she intentionally doesn’t describe the features of the main characters. As a result, I think readers put themselves in the shoes of the character.

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    1. I love that book. Another favorite read aloud of my sixth graders is The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. by Kate Messner. I can teach so much using the novel because there are multiple conflicts interwoven in the story and the characters are so solid. Thank you for your response. Happy writing and teaching!

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  3. Sharing our writing can feel so vulnerable. How wonderful that you are willing to share your work with your students. As we write on our own we often develop such an empathy for our students as writers. Bravo!

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  4. So, you are letting mentor texts drive your personal endeavors as a writer. Brilliant! I agree with you, supporting characters are beloved and supremely important. What would a main character be if not for the actions and reactions of the supporting characters. I love that you are working like this right alongside your students! Thanks for this post!

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  5. Welcome to the Slice of Life Story Challenge! I love how you’ve drawn a connection between your reading life (studying and caring about supporting characters) and your writing life (creating strong supporting characters that readers will care about). When kids care about the characters in books they read, and in the stories they write, this extends and transfers to caring about and empathizing with people in real life. Happy slicing!

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