The Magic of Making Stories:

Activity Three: Build a Hero

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Build a Hero

Most people assume that a writer starts a book thinking about plot. For many writers, that’s not true. They start with character. They get to know their hero inside out. I read the other day that author Emile Zola would even delve into the personalities of his characters parents before writing a word of plot.

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Main characters are so important to a story because they are the ones the reader will connect with. And heroes in a story can be marvelous role models for kids – making moral choices, facing their fears, being kind to the unloved. A main character you create with your kids can be an excellent way to work through situations your child is dealing with.

Building a family-created story around a character is fun and easy.

Start with a picture of a person. Any interesting face in a photo will do. Funny animals are fine, too. You may find it easier to draw your own. Or have your child draw one. Don’t worry if you’re not an artist; a simple cartoon will be enough to get started.

For example, here are some drawn by members of my family:

Again, don’t worry about how well it’s drawn. In fact, as I’ve done this game with thousands of kids, I find that the best drawings are the odd drawings. Can you pick the one above drawn by my three-year-old? It’s very simple, but I love the hair and the clown nose. That simple goofiness (don’t tell her I said that) makes it a fun one to work with.

If you’d like to start with something a little more polished, I’ve illustrated some you can use:

(These are from my web activity I call Mugshots, which demonstrates Build a Hero very well. You can use Mugshots to get used to the idea, then try some characters where you make the drawing.)

To turn your quirky face into a character, ask a few questions about the person in the drawing:

• What is this character’s favorite thing to do?
• What makes him sad?
• What one thing does he want more than anything else?
• What is he afraid of?
• What does he think he’s good at?

Just as with the drawing, the odder the answer, the more interesting the character. When I do this process in schools, kids usually start with characters that like to watch TV or skateboard. We press on until we have ones that like to eat ice cream on the roof, who are afraid of their own shadows, or pigs that want to dance ballet. Remember to give your character flaws. That will make them more human and give them a chance to grow.

Once you have your character, send him on an adventure. Use one of the basic plots. Or just have him try to get his favorite thing, and give him a problem along the way.

all material ©2003 Bruce Van Patter