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8 Elements of Character
Jekyll and Hyde
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November is National Novel Writing Month!
Here are the mini-lessons:
Day 1: Characterization
Direct and indirect characterization
Direct characterization: He was shy.
Indirect characterization: When in large crowds, he kept his eyes on the ground and nodded when people asked him questions, hoping not to become the center of attention.
This is the "show, don't tell" element teachers talk about. Trust your reader to draw conclusion based on the description of what the character is doing or thinking about. Sometimes you need to use direct characterization as a short cut, but this is better coming out of the mouths of other characters. And don't forget, unlike real life, your fictional characters should lie. A lot. What they are saying should often conflict what what they really think or want.
Day 2: Setting
Using sensory details to bring a place to life
Go beyond a visual description to bring your setting to life: Include the sounds, smells, tactile details, and flavors of the setting. If your character enters a building that always smells like vanilla cupcakes or they can taste the dust in the air, your readers will feel transported to this place.
Day 3: Characterization/Plot
The main conflict of your story: what does your protagonist want, and what stands in his/her way?
Make sure, however, that in each scene your protagonist wants something and that by the end of the scene your protagonist either gets it, changes what he/she wants, or discovers some new way he/she has to go about getting it. Start the scene as late as possible and then, once the character's goal is met/turned away/changed, you end it soon after. It helps build suspense and keeps your plot from being bogged down.
Day 4: Dialogue
Dialogue is important to your story. Rather than summarizing the action, take the time to have your characters talk to each other. Dialogue is the conversation that characters are literally having. Watch your punctuation and indentation. Every time you change speakers, you need to start a new paragraph. Put the tags ("he said") at the end.
Here's a great explanation on writing dialogue:
Dr. Siegel's dialogue
Day 5: Figurative language: Metaphor and simile
The key to metaphor and simile is using ideas that are NOT similar and then making an unexpected comparison. If you make multiple points of comparison, then you extend the metaphor.
Metaphor: The sun
a red ball.
Simile: The sun is
a red ball.
Day 6: hyperbole
Hyperbole is a type of figurative language that means you are exaggerating for effect. For example, if you say that a room is as hot as a million suns, you are using hyperbole. Note that this is also a simile in this case. Figurative language can overlap that way. Remember that figurative language is not to be taken literally, and that it helps put an image in a reader's head.
Day 7: onomatopoeia/oxymoron
Onomatopoeia is a sound-effect word that is spelled like what it means. "Pow," "crack," and "splat" are all examples of this.
An oxymoron is when you use two words that seem to contradict each other: jumbo shrimp, Biggie Smalls, icy hot, military intelligence, beautiful disaster.
Day 8: Rule of three
We've talked before about how three is a "magic" number, a perfect balance to the symmetry of two and four. Giving three examples, using three words--all convey a sense of balance. For humor, you can list two serious things and make the third more absurd ("She never left for school without her backpack, her calculator, and her pet rock"). You can use three gerunds: Bob kept studying, kept reading, kept writing until he knew how to pass the bar exam. Go from more specific to more general: She felt overwhelmed by her homework, her job, her world. Use three to show relationships between ideas in this way.
Day 10: Synecdoche and metonymy
Synecdoche is using a part to represent the whole. For example, if you refer to a car as a "new set of wheels," you mean the entire car but you are using part of the car to stand in for the whole thing. Many kennings worked this way, using part ("The many swords kept coming" to mean all the soldiers, for example) to represent the whole. You can also use a whole to stand in for a part ("The US won the tennis competition"--the whole United States did not play, just a representative).
Metonymy is using a closely related object to stand in for someone or an idea. When the press says a statement came from the Oval Office or The White House, they mean the president or his staff, by naming something closely related to stand in for him. Saying "the crown" when you mean the king is also metonymy.
Day 11: Personification
Personification means giving human attributes to objects or ideas. For example, saying the sun smiled down on someone, or that the shadow slumped against the wall, or that the trees whispered their secrets into the wind, are all personification. Find ways to use personification to help give your reader new images and bring your ideas to life.
Day 12: REPETITION FOR EFFECT
This is a tricky one: sometimes when you repeat yourself, it seems like you are going in circles or don’t have a new idea. Repetition for effect is an intentional repeating of a word or sentence for emphasis. Think WAY WAY back to September—we read an article called “It doesn’t get any tougher than this” about Columbine volleyball coach Dawn Anna. Remember the repetition of the word “didn’t” and the phrase “arms wide open”? That’s repetition for effect, spread out as a narrative framework to hold it together. Here’s an example from Mary Ellen Ledbetter that may also make it clear:
The veranda is your only shelter AWAY FROM the sister in bed asleep, AWAY FROM the brother who plays in the tree house in the field, AWAY FROM your chores that await you.
Find a way to use the repetition of a word or phrase to add emphasis to a certain idea in your writing. Try it!
Sometimes in your novel, when it’s a really important moment, you want to freeze time for a bit and describe everything in great detail, really slow down and let the reader soak it all up.
Here’s an example from Mary Ellen Ledbetter:
- Instead of “speeding” past a moment, writers often emphasize it by “expanding” the actions.
But no, I had to go to school. And as I said before, I had to listen to my math teacher preach about numbers and letters and figures…I was tired of hearing her annoying voice lecture about ‘a=b divided by x.’ I glared at the small black hands on the clock, silently threatening them to go faster. But they didn’t listen, I caught myself wishing I were on white sand and looking down at almost transparent pale-blue water with Josh at my side…I don’t belong in some dumb math class. I belong on the beach, where I can soak my feet in caressing water and let the wind wander its way through my chestnut-colored hair and sip Dr. Pepper all day long.
Somewhere in your novel each day that you are writing, slow down and expand a moment to bring it to life for your reader. This is a good place to put in some great sensory detail, too.
Synaesthesia is the describing of one sense through another. For example, if I said the grass smelled pink, or the ocean sounded salty, I would be using one sense to describe another. Grass doesn’t smell like a color, and sounds aren’t flavors. Saying you can taste fear, for example, is synaesthesia. Go ahead and try it—use one sense to give depth to another. It’s not the kind of thing you’d use a lot—but if you use it a few times, it can be very powerful.
Day 15: Single word sentences/paragraphs
Think way back to the beginning of the year when we read "It doesn't get any tougher than this" about Columbine volleyball coach Dawn Anna. Remember how the author used the word "Didn't" as its own sentence for emphasis? Authors use single words when they want to make a bold point about something, when they want the reader to understand the weight and significance of that single word.
Day 16: Irony
Three kinds of irony: verbal, dramatic, and situational.
Verbal irony is when what is said is the opposite of what is meant (for example, if I said that on December 1, I won't have any grading to do and I really have 100 novels to grade). This is different from sarcasm in that sarcasm is narrowly defined as using praise to put someone down (Nice painting! to suggest that someone's artwork is less than stellar).
Dramatic irony is when the reader knows something that the characters do not (for example, the reader knows that there is a werewolf in the closet that the character is about to open). This can be used for suspense.
Situational irony is when the opposite of what is expected happens. For example, if your character puts a little bit of soap in the washer and the entire room fills with suds, that would be situational irony. Sit coms rely on these concepts--sit com is short for situation comedy.
Current week in bold:
NaNoWriMo Word Counts:
In-class totals: Nov. 6: 0
Nov. 7: 550
Homework for week 1, due 11/12: 500 words
Total words, week 1: 1,050
Week 2, in-class totals (including all words from week 1):
Nov. 12: 1,550
Nov. 13: 2,100
Nov. 14: 2,650
Nov. 15: 3,200
Nov. 16: 3,750
Homework for week 2, due 11/14: 2000 words
Total words to date for weeks 1 and 2: 5,750
Week 3, in-class totals (cumulative):
Nov. 19: 6,300
Nov. 20: 6,850
Nov. 21; 7,400
Homework for week 3, due 11/21: 1000 words
Total words to date for weeks 1-3 (cumulative): 8,400
Week 4, in-class totals (cumulative):
Nov. 26: 8,950
Nov. 27: 9,500
Nov. 28: 10,050
Nov. 29: 10,600
Nov. 30: 11,150
Homework for week 4, due 11/28: 2000 words
Total words to date for weeks 1-4 (cumulative): 13,200
Final total: 13,200 words
Due December 1:
Your novel, all 13,200+ words. It must be on hard copy and not on a gig stick or in your computer or email. Please make it easy for Ms. Ansbach to drag them around and read them.
Your summary document, in which you give an example of each of the mini-lessons from your novel, and explain how you know each is a strong example. You'll need to include each of the following:
direct and indirect characterization
setting described using imagery
character motivation for a scene
metaphor and simile
rule of three
repetition for effect
single word sentences/paragraphs
Make sure that you label where in your novel each of your examples comes from so Ms. Ansbach can find it in context.
For today, please complete the following (copy and paste into a new document OR print and handwrite your answers):
Print out this document below:
Title of your novel:
Three stories that inspire your novel:
Describe your main character:
Name your main character:
List other characters:
Name your villain:
Describe your villain:
Settings (not just place and time but specifics for scenes: a coffee shop, a mall, a theme park, a kitchen):
What does your main character want?
What stands in his or her way?
Click on "NaNoWriMo" to the left and scroll down for the character questionnaire--complete that, too!
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