Character, Plot, and Setting, Oh My! (Part 1)

Homeschooling, Teaching Writing  /   /  By Jenn Stefaniak
Stone Soup Magazine
Sept/Oct 2016

Developing the Elements of a Story, Part 1

wooI can’t even count how many times I’ve read Thomas’s Christmas Delivery or Little Bear’s New Friend.  My children never tired of hearing about Thomas’s and Little Bear’s adventures. Though as adults we may not read the same book as many times as our children reread their favorites, we can appreciate the draw of a good story.  It’s that connection we have with the story that keeps us turning page after page into the wee hours of the night.  But what makes a story one to treasure? And how can we help our kids develop a tale beyond a sequence of events? The glue that holds a story together is character, plot, and setting, and when children understand and develop them, a great story is born.

Who remembers Charlie Bucket, Cassie Logan, or Wilbur the pig? These characters are memorable because they have connected with us in some way. Readers want to bond with the characters of a story, particularly the main character (protagonist), and it is what ultimately keeps them reading. Bringing a character to life, however, making characters real and multidimensional is not always easy. Here are a few tips to help your children develop characters to remember.

The most important thing a writer needs to do is make the character genuine. This means the character has speech, thoughts, emotions, likes and dislikes, and responses that are lifelike, not contrived. The first step to meeting this goal is to make a character profile that provides basic physical and personality facts. These include but are not limited to species (i.e. human, animal, alien), accent (if any), gender, age, hair, skin, and eye color, ethnicity, height, weight, date of birth, scars, birthmarks, piercings, clothing style, favorite foods and activities, fears, skills, and hobbies. A fun way to create a character sketch is by creating a “Wanted” poster or “mug shot.” However, if your child prefers graphic organizers, there are fun options for a younger child at Permanently Primary as well as a wonderful collection of downloadable organizers for older children at Daily Teaching Tools. Perhaps your child is happy making lists or filling out charts; detailed worksheets can be printed from Capstone Kids.

After the basic profile is complete, your child can further develop his or her character by brainstorming personality traits and how that character would express those traits through actions or speech.  Character trait charts, like those found at Education Oasis or Daily Teaching Tools are convenient methods that will help your child make his or her character come to life. More than this, it emphasizes to them the need to show rather than tell the readers who the character is.

Although much of the information collected may never be integrated into the story itself, fleshing out the character makes him or her more authentic. In turn, your young writer will be more likely to present the character in a convincing way and have fun in the process.


About the Author

Jenn lives in Massachusetts and is a homeschooling mom to her two children, Luke and Lia. In her spare time, she teaches writing at a community college, reads voraciously, hikes, runs, and generally spends as much time as possible outside with her husband and kids.

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  1. Gabriella May 22, 2014 at 9:02 am Reply

    THANK YOU for your wonderful resources Jean Stefaniak!

    • Jenn Stefaniak May 22, 2014 at 11:27 am Reply

      You’re welcome. I’m so glad that you find them helpful!

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