Character Cameo fact sheet. To complete this lesson, the students have already completed the basic fact sheet for their characters (link to previous lesson), such as age, year in school, personality, etc. Today, they will create a vivid scene that evokes their character's ways of seeing and being (W.9-10.3a). We are delving into the students' original character creations as a way of both focusing and energizing our work with narrative writing.
Why write fictional narrative? Here I wish to defend the choice of using fictional writing as the focus of a narrative unit (W.9-10.3). Often, such units focus on personal narrative, that is, understanding an experience that has already happened. On the other hand, when students write fictional stories, that argument goes, we can often run the risk of opening up a Pandora's box of crazy storylines and dangerous themes. However, this Character Cameo assignment offers the best of both worlds: it is fiction and can be embellished in any way, but it is also based at least somewhat upon the student writers, and I encourage them through the various exercises to think and remember their experiences and to include those in the character's progress. That way, like all good writers, our students learn to pay very close attention to their experiences and to write them carefully for their imagined audiences. See more on that here: Writing Complex Characters.
** Image credit: line drawing is a photo image shared by JRice on flickr.com.
***Image credit and acknowledgement: I would like to cite George Hillocks' book on Narrative Writing (2006) as an inspiration here.
We now turn our attention to professional examples of narrative texts, in the attached resources (or this link). We will focus on the first example, the excerpt from the opening of The Hobbit, and tomorrow we will focus on the opening of Hard Times. Although I've run this lesson for years, it's quite fortuitous that the Hobbit has gotten re-popularized over the past couple of years with the creation of two movies--and a third on the way!--to depict the events of the novel.
Implying and inferring. Even though the text doesn't explicitly state that Bilbo Baggins is a homebody, it certainly suggests it though multiple implications. As we read this example, I will ask the students to do some character inference (RL.9-10.3) and explain how the round doors, lots of pegs for coats, neat and orderly style, etc. create the image of a person who both likes the comforts of home and does NOT like the idea of going on an adventure (thus, creating the dramatic tension in the opening scene when the wizard, Gandalf, offers him the chance to come on a crazy scheme). I ask them about the details that the writer uses in each case to build the tone and characterization.
I will ask:
1.) What type of person is the Hobbit?
2.) How does his home seem to reflect that of a 'homebody' who might not be prone to adventures?
3.) For those who have seen the movie, how does the director try to make the same implications?
4.) What is the difference between writing for implication through description (W.9-10.3a) and reading for inference of character (RL.9-10.3)? How are the two skills complementary?
Bonus image! You will also notice an image in the Character Cameo packet (link). This image can be used in exactly the same way as the image in the previous lesson (link). I include it here as an optional activity if you have time (W.9-10.3a). In some iterations of this lesson, I have done this activity, and in others I have not; sometimes I have substituted this image for the activity in the previous lesson, and vice versa. It's pretty flexible, but if you select your own image to create an image elicitation for the character cameo, please consider selecting an image that has some complexity to it, that is, that the character seems to evoke something positive and virtuous and also something complicated or even vice-worthy.
This year, I did not run this part of the lesson, but I'd be interested to get your feedback on this lesson, particularly if you decide to run both images.
Character in situ. With just a small episode of class remaining, I ask students how they can incorporate the skills from the writing activities into their ongoing character cameos. Generally, students are pretty enthusiastic about the creative writing that they have been doing, so this is not much of a hard sell.
Short writing. I will ask them to complete the bottom of page 2 of the character cameo sheet. This space provides them the opportunity to imagine their character in a familiar haunt in order to engage readers in the story (W.9-10.3a). Like the Hobbit in his home in Bag End, and like Simon Lord Lovat in his decadent study room, the student's character-cameo character could be most at home... in a cellar, on the beach, in an alley, living under the stairs, alone in the back of the bus, in the center of the party, etc.! I will ask them to write out a few lines of description, and we will expand it in the next lesson.
When the students are done, I will ask:
1.) How can you use the description, metaphor (W.9-10.3d), and characterization skills in creating an interesting character narrative?
2.) How can you sequence the story so that it makes sense for the character that you have created (W.9-10.c)?
3.) What other descriptive details (W.9-10.3b) can you add in order to make it memorable?