Creative writing workshop: Keeping up appearances

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By Teresa Saunderseducation journalist and children’s writer

Invite your class to create their own individual and exciting characters


Our Creative Writing Workshop series looks at story characters in depth and detail, providing exciting opportunities for children to explore their favourite character – and create believable and interesting characters of their own. This article concentrates on the appearance – how writers use physical appearance, clothes and accessories to create distinctive characters.

Creating thrilling, unforgettable characters is the essence of good storywriting. Think of some firm favourites – from Alice in Wonderland to Tracy Beaker, Huckleberry Finn to Harry Potter, Hercules to the great Gandalf – and see how they move their stories along, generating atmosphere, drama and tension, stirring their readers’ imaginations and orchestrating their emotions. Explain to the children that great characters are not just conjured out of thin air – writers go through a range of different thought processes as they pursue their ideal character.

Time to think

Give the children plenty of time and opportunity to think about, talk about and explore a variety of different characters before they start writing. Point out that some writers describe their characters in great detail – have a look at Roald Dahl’s vivid portrayal of the horrible aunts in James and the Giant Peach or Michelle Magorian’s graphic introduction to old Tom in Goodnight Mister Tom. Other writers use just one physical characteristic, article of clothing or accessory to make their characters distinctive – Rapunzel’s long hair, Red Riding Hood’s cloak, Harry Potter’s glasses or the White Rabbit’s waistcoat and large pocket watch.

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