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A Character Sketch Is A Type Of Brief Biographical Essay Format

How to Write a Narrative


If you choose to write a narrative, it should be a story in which either you or someone you know well was actually involved. You should avoid stories that simply recount accidents. What I mean is this: a good story needs to have the element of choice in it. If you describe an accident, you need to show that decisions led up to it. This story should be about people, about the decisions they make and the consequences that follow.

A narrative is a moving picture. Like description, narratives need to have a rich texture of details so that the reader is seeing, hearing, smelling, and touching. The reader should experience the story, not simply hear it.

Stories add the element of time to description. Often stories start at the beginning and then follow the sequence of events chronologically. However, an effective variation on this pattern is to start in the middle of things and then use flashbacks to fill in the background information. This method is especailly effective in holding the reader's attention.

There are two extremes you want to avoid in writing a narrative. First, you can simply tell the story, event by event, without giving it any texture because you leave out descriptive details and dialogue. At the opposite extreme is a narrative that attempts to tell everything, painting detailed descriptions of every scene, quoting everything that is said, even speculating about the thoughts of the characters. A good narrative has texture, but it is suggestive rather than exhaustive. After all, the reader's imagination needs some room to fill in details. Giving too many details not only overwhelms the reader's imagination, it also slows the pace of the narrative.

Pacing is an important concept in narrative writing. Basically, pacing means that the writer sometimes slows the pace by putting more detail in, but sometimes she also hurries over details. A good way to know where to put in details and where to leave them out is to think of a narrative as consisting of episodes (smaller scenes that are strung together to make up a longer story). If you divide your story into a few short episodes, then you want suggestive detail within the episodes, but you want to hurry over the transitions between them. Think of episodes as pearls on a string. Make the pearls full orbed; keep the string stringy. The reader dwells in the episodes, but she needs to be oriented to them, and that is the function of the transitions.

As with description, point of view is important. What position is the story being told from? Another way of talking about this is to talk about the story's narrator. The narrator is not the writer, but the consciousness through which the story is told. Sometimes the story is told in third person, which means that every one is referred to as he, or she, or they. Sometimes, however, it is told in first person, which means that the narrator refers to himself as "I" and is actually involved in the story. Not all narrators are reliable.

The more sophisticated narratives become, the more problematic is the narrator. When the narrator tells the story in first person, but details in the story lead the reader to suspect that the narrator is not reliable, the result is irony. Irony is a narrative condition in which the reader and the writer share a common judgmental attitude toward the narrator, or when the reader knows more than the narrator and characters in the story.

For this assignment, it is probably better to tell the story as straight as possible. Irony is hard to pull off successfully. If you want to experiment with narrative form, I would suggest that you start somewhere in the middle of things and then use flashbacks. Also work on putting in suggestive but not overwhelming detail and dialogue. Try dividing your story into short episodes that build on each other. If you can pattern a sequence of events so that the story has some kind of climax (a scene of great tension and even explosion) followed by a denoument (a scene in which everything is worked out), you will have done more than many of us can.

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Subjects

  • Language Arts
  • Literature
  • Family Life

Grade

Brief Description

Write a character sketch about somebody you know well.

Objectives

Students will

  • use a graphic organizer to help them discuss a model character sketch and organize/write one of their own.
  • write an interesting sketch that includes the proper elements of a character sketch.

Keywords

characterization, character sketch, writing, expository writing, character, graphic organizer

Materials Needed
  • a "model" character sketch -- text provided below (a copy for each student, or an overhead projector to display the model to the entire class)

The Lesson

In this lesson, students write a character sketch about somebody they know well -- for example, a parent, best friend, relative, or neighbor. After they have mastered the art of writing a character sketch of somebody familiar, they can transfer their character-sketch writing skills to a character sketch about a character in a novel or another piece of literature.

Explain to students what a character sketch is: A character sketch highlights several important characteristics or personality traits of a person -- a real person, a person in literature, or an imagined person. A good character sketch provides support detail for each identified trait.

Share with students the model character sketch that appears below. You might cut and paste it into a Word document and provide a copy for each student, or print out this lesson and photocopy the sketch below onto an overhead transparency.

My friend Liz is a true best friend. She always supports me in everything I want to do. When I wanted to go up North, she said she thought it would be a great experience and that it would help me develop my sense of adventure.

Liz is not only a great supporter. She also trusts me to give her my honest opinion and to say what I feel. When she was upset with her sister one time, she asked what I thought about it and I said she should wait and then she would find out the real reason why her sister was mad at her. And it happened that way. She knew she could trust me.

Liz can be a barrel of fun when she is in the mood. I really like when she does silly things. One night, we rented three movies and watched all three while we ate popcorn, cheese and crackers, and a whole box of chocolates. We gabbed about everything and even imagined what it would be like to live like some of the characters in the movies.

Since my best friend is now living over 500 miles away, I miss all the laughter she brought to my life and the times I could ask her opinion on things that troubled me. But I can still hear the sound of her voice and ask her opinion on the telephone!

Point out that in the character sketch above, the writer highlighted what he or she felt were some of Liz's best qualities or character traits. For each trait or characteristic, the writer provided at least one detail that supported -- served as proof -- that Liz possessed that trait. The character sketch form below provides a simple outline for a character sketch. Have students work on their own or in small groups as they use the form to discuss the character sketch above. The form will help them identify

  • the qualities/character traits that the writer likes most about Liz.
  • details/examples to support those traits.
Character Sketch Format/Graphic Organizer

Topic Sentence: ____________________________________________________

Trait #1 _________________________________
Example(s) __________________________________________
____________________________________________________

Trait #2 _________________________________
Example(s) __________________________________________
____________________________________________________

Trait #3 _________________________________
Example(s) __________________________________________
____________________________________________________

Concluding Sentence: ____________________________________________________

Set aside time for students to share their work. Ask: What traits did the writer admire in Liz?

Then invite students to share some other traits people might have that would be worthy of inclusion in a character sketch. (You might do this as a class activity or have students first brainstorm traits in their small groups.) Write of list of those traits as students identify them. Some traits might include loyalty, kindness, and determination.

Have students use a graphic organizer form similar to the one above to formulate ideas for a character sketch about someone they know well; the form will help them organize their thinking before writing. Emphasize the importance of providing good, strong supporting details for each characteristic. Help students who seem to be having difficulty identifying traits or providing supporting details. After they have filled in the spaces on the graphic organizer, students are ready to write their sketches.

This is a good activity to do around holiday time, Mother's Day, or Father's Day. You might have students laminate their completed sketches to present as gifts to the subject of their sketches.

When you are comfortable that students have mastered the concept of a character sketch, have them use the format to create a character sketch of a character from a book, story, poem, play, or other piece of literature.

Assessment

Students write a character sketch that includes all the important elements defined in the lesson above.

Submitted By

Pauline Finlay, Holy Trinity Elementary School, Torbay, Newfoundland (Canada)


Education World®
Copyright © 2004 Education World

Originally published 04/23/2004
Last updated 07/25/2017

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