Character Development

Ed Ravensberg

Purpose: These activities are designed to support character development in fiction writing.

1) Book Discussion: Analyze a character in an existing work of fiction. I have chosen excerpts from the book Crash by Jerry Spinelli for this activity, but I would normally use this during or after a read aloud of a novel or picture book. Questions for discussion after read aloud: - What can you tell me about the character? - Does the authors use of first person affect how we view the character? - Is a unique voice created? What words or phrases bring out this voice?

2) Character Cards: Pass out color cards and have the students write a different aspect of a fictional character on each. (Responses should be brief): Red- a nickname, Green- favorite hobby, Yellow- hair color or other distinguishing physical features, Blue- something the character does well, Purple- An activity or a situation that a character could participate in (ex.- doing laundry, going to a concert, etc.). These will be collected, and randomly redistributed later. You may need to vary the categories based on the size of your class.

3) Character Groups: Organize students into small groups. Pass out one of each color to every group, except purple. The groups’ task will be to use these pieces of information to create an original character. They will need to write down the information given plus come up with other aspects of the character. Some of these may include a name, gender, family details, where they live, - anything the group chooses.

4) Individual Character Development: Have each student take the information they came up with in their group and free-write about their character for 5- 10 minutes. They can also “fill in the gaps” by come up with anything else that wasn’t decided in their group. After the have had a chance to do this, pass out white paper and have the students draw the character. This will make students consider their physical description, which will also dictate how that character is “seen.” You might want to have students consider facial expressions and backgrounds/context. Finally, pass out the purple cards that were written out earlier and have the students write a scene from a piece of fiction for the particular character that was created. Remind them of the book discussion, and that one way a reader finds out about a character is how they act in particular situations. Students may want to include dialogue, and may write in first or third person.

5) Character groups revisited: Have the students meet again to share their pictures and writing. Have the students discuss the similarities and differences in how each person chose to interpret the character.

6) Wrap-up: (Whole group) Have willing students share their characters (drawings, writing) with the whole class. Have them also share the similarities/differences they had with their group in their interpretation of the character.


1) Redo activity entirely on their own.

2) Students dress up and do role-play with their characters.

3) Interview each other during role-play.

4) Write a more complete work of fiction including their character.


Excerpt from Crash by Jerry Spinelli Taken from chapter 1 where our main character, Crash (a middle school student), telling the reader a story of when he first met a new neighbor...

It was a sunny summer day. I was in the front yard digging a hole with my little red shovel. I heard something like whistling. I looked up. It was whistling. It was coming from a funny- looking dorky little runt walking up the sidewalk. Only he wasn't just walking regular. He was walking like he owned the place, both hands in his pockets, sort of swaying lah-dee-dah with each step. Strollllll-ing. Strolling and gawking at the houses and whistling a happy dorky little tune like some Sneezy or Snoozy or whatever their names are.

And he wore a button, a big one. It covered about half his chest. Which wasn't that hard since his chest was so scrawny.

So here he comes strolling, whistling, gawking, buttoning, dorking up the sidewalk, onto my sidewalk, my property, and all of a sudden I knew what I had to do, like there was some big announcement coming down from the sky: Don't let him pass.

So I jump up from my hole and plant myself right in front of the kid. And what's he do? He gives me a big grin and says, "Good morning, I'm your new neighbor. My name is Penn Webb. What's yours?" And he sticks his hand out to shake.

I ignored his question and his hand. "Penn?" I said. "What kind of name is that?"

"I was named after the Penn Relays," he said.

"Huh?" I said.

"It's a famous track meet. When I was born..."

You're going to be a flat nosed baby if you don't shut up, I'm thinking. "What does your button say?" I asked him.

He stuck out his scrawny chest. "It says, 'Hi, I'm a Flickertail.'"

"What's a flickertail?"

"A flickertail is a squirrel. There are lots of them in North Dakota. That's why it's called the Flickertail state. What is Pennsylvania called?"

"The Poop State."

He didn't crack a smile, didn't even know it was a joke. He got all frowny and thought about it and nodded and said, "Oh." Then his motormouth took off again. "North Dakota is real flat..."

...I cut him off. "My father is starting a new business. He works seventy hours a week. Sometimes more."

"My mother works at home, like my father. She makes greeting cards and buttons like this."

"My mother works and goes to school. Both."

"I like dogs, but I love turtles. Would you like to see my turtle?"

"No. I have a grandfather named Scooter. He was a cook in the U.S. Navy."

"I am an only child."

"I'm starting first grade this year."

"Me too," he said, and for the second time he asked me my name.

"Mergatroid," I said.

He didn't even blink. He just stuck out his hand and said, "Nice to meet you, Mergatroid." Instead of my hand I stuck out my shovel. He shook it. He laughed. He thought it was the funniest thing since Bugs Bunny.

For some reason, that laughing was the last straw. I plucked that silly button off his shirt, dumped it in the hole I was digging, and covered it over with dirt. I stomped and flattened the dirt with my foot.

The kid froze in midlaugh. His eyes took up his whole face. Then he turned and walked down the block. He wasn't whistling now.

I figured that was the last time I'd ever see that hambone.