Character Wants and Conflicts

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SWBAT decide a goal for their fictional character, the conflict that interferes with that goal, and when during the story the conflict happens.

Big Idea

Students spend time thinking about the fictional characters they've crafted before determining what that character "wants" in the story, ideas of what might happen to interfere with that plan and when to introduce the conflict in their stories.

Unit Introduction

This year, I’ve challenged myself to rethink genre instruction so that students gain a greater understanding and appreciation of the three main types.  In order to build stronger connections between reading and writing, I reworked my units so that they are completely intertwined.  Just as with my non-fiction units, you’ll find lessons focused mainly on reading skills in a unit called, “All About Fiction” while those centered around writing skills in a unit called, “Fictional Writing.” In my classroom, both units were taught simultaneously over a nine-week period.

Students created their own fictional characters in the first five lessons in this writing unit. In the remaining lessons, students use that character to write a fiction story modeled after one of the folktale genres studied in class. Each writing lesson was designed to partner with a reading lesson with the same focus. For instance, in “Folktales: Locating the Introduction,” students learn about what an introduction is, where it is located in a fiction story and why it is important. This lesson was meant to precede the writing lesson where students create the introduction to their own fiction stories. However, they easily could be taught separately if needed to accommodate your schedule. 


Setting a Purpose

10 minutes

I ask students to pull out their writers’ notebooks, pencils, and plot maps as I review yesterday’s work. During workshop, students chose details for their settings and added those to their plot maps.  Today we will work on conflict.

“This morning we talked about the conflict in a story. Let’s review what we learned.” I have students share with me what they remember from our readers’ workshop lesson and refer back to our anchor chart. We discuss how the conflict is the main problem in the story and how it usually interferes with what a character wants.

“In order to develop a conflict, we first need to decide what it is our character wants. What is his or her goal? Is there something she wants to achieve? I’ve done a little thinking about my character and the story I’d like to write for her. And think I’ve come up with a goal. The setting of my story takes place in an all girls school in Italy. It’s a special school for kids who learn differently or who have special abilities. In my introduction, my character, Audrianna, has just arrived at this new school and is getting to know her way around. She discovers the school’s library and is in awe! It is a massive place filled with books she’s never seen or heard of before. Her goal is read every book in the entire library. But, not just speed read. She wants to read every book at a normal pace like everyone else. That’s her goal – to read every book in the library at a pace that she can actually enjoy.

“Take a second to think about the character you’ve created, his abilities, what she’s known for, etc. Consider this with the setting you crafted yesterday. See if you can come up with a goal for your character. When you have an idea, turn and share it with your partner.” After students share, I direct them to open their notebooks to a new page, write today’s date, and “Character wants/conflicts” at the top. In the center of the page, I ask them to draw a circle and then write their character’s goal/want in the center of it.


Partner Talk

10 minutes

“OK, next – we’re going to brainstorm what could get in the way of that goal. If we remember from our reading lessons, the conflict can come at different points in the story. Sometimes it comes after the character gets what he wants. Think about Anansi. He wanted to eat fruit out of Possum’s garden. And he got what he wanted, but eating that fruit is what got him into trouble, right? Now, lets think about our Paper Bag Princess. In the beginning of the story, Elizabeth just wanted to marry her prince. But before she could get what she wanted, a dragon came and messed up her plan. Sometimes the conflict comes while the character gets what he or she wants. Can you think of a story we’ve read this year where this happens?” Students share their ideas.

“In my story, there are lots of things that could happen that would interfere with Audrianna’s goal.  For example, the library could burn down before she even gets a chance to begin reading. Maybe she’s unable to slow her supernatural ability while trying to meet her goal and she becomes frustrated and gives up. Or perhaps after reading all of the books in the library, she finds that she no longer has her super ability – she’s somehow lost it after meeting her goal. I don’t know that I will use any of these ideas, but they’re just a start. You’re going to work through the same process with your partners. I’d like you to think of a few examples of each type of conflict – some that would come before your character meets her goal, during, and after. No need to write just yet, simply talk through your ideas. If you’re the listener be thinking of ideas too! Be creative! Share any ideas that come to mind as you think of your partner’s character and what he or she is trying to achieve." 

Independent Writing

20 minutes

After several minutes, I ask students to write down what they shared with their partners. They can create a web showing how the ideas are related, make a list, or write in paragraph form. Whatever format works for them is best. While students write, I conduct individual or small group conferences. 


10 minutes

To close the lesson, I have students review their work and choose the conflict they like best. I ask them to circle it and write whether this will come before, during, or after the character reaches his goal. We then add this goal and conflict to our plot maps.