Crash test characters

This is a fun activity I’ve been using with my writing classes the past couple of weeks. It’s a way for my students to test the characters they have been developing for their long-term novel projects.

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How it works is this: Each student chooses a main character from his or her book and develops a detailed profile. I often give a whole week for this, because the key is to force the students to really think about the character and to provide detailed descriptions (as opposed to quick ones, made to just fill up blanks on a worksheet).

But it’s actually okay if some students don’t complete this part of the project sincerely—because it all comes out in the crash test. Because what happens next is the students trade profiles so that now each of them has a different (and unfamiliar) character in front of them. They can’t interview the creator; all they can do is use the information on the sheet. Next, I set up the idea that each character has been plucked from its original story and transplanted into a new situation. This is a pre-configured scenario I’ve developed, rather like a “Choose-Your-Own-Adventure” situation, one that demands that the characters react or make choices.

The students apply the character to the situation and write a short description of what happens. We then read out the resulting pieces and the creators get to see how their characters performed. They might agree with how the new author used the character—or they might completely disagree. And this can result in some interesting conversations about what the students thought their characters were about, and how they were interpreted.

Frankly, I also think it’s fun to see someone else play with your creation. Writing can be tough and I feel like this offers a bit of immediate gratification. It also gives the students the chance to do some writing that’s not connected to their novels, which means they write without the burden of worrying about the final result. But, of course, their words can help each other see their characters in new, and perhaps unexpected, ways.

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