A Pirate's Resources


Exercise 11 & 12 :: Characterizations :: Show, don't tell

Characterizations describe things. These descriptions give details that define who or what a character is.

Your student has already learned how to describe things, in detail, in the being specific, setting, and significance exercises (among others). They should be getting stronger at being descriptive when they are telling about something. We are simply taking those skills and muscles and applying them to the characters in the story. As always, the exercises are designed to slowly build towards the student having lots of different aspects of a character with which to identify them - physical traits, details, activities they like, their personality, skills and experiences they’ve had, relationships, clothing style, even voice.

One way that you can help your child in this section is to make sure they understand the concept of “show, don’t tell.” On page 131, we
tell them that a character “loves school.” Then we list 7 characterizations that show by description that they love school. This is such an important concept that we give them lots of opportunities to practice as the exercise finishes. Take a moment to glance over their shoulders and make sure they understand. (Remember, these don’t have to be realistic characterizations - if your student wants to be silly or bizarre, that’s okay - but they should be specific descriptions that demonstrate the given characteristic. For example, if one of the characterizations that we “tell” is dances - showing it might include “hops up on a bus and does the Macarena” - that’s nuts, but it does, in fact show the thing we want to show. Even if we don’t recommend actually trying this at home.)

In Real Life :: This one is fun to do around the dinner table or when you are driving in the car. We all, when we are talking, do a lot of “telling.” So try to catch each other “telling” and then rework it to “show” what you want to say. For example, say your son says, “sister was in a bad mood today.” Oh - caught you - show me! “Sister slammed the door today every time I yelled down to the kitchen today. She also took my socks and threw them at me because she said they stunk up the hallway.” Doing this, even just a few times, really helps them solidify what they are learning. It also can help teach us to read the clues that people/situations are giving us. Try to find subtle examples of this. One way is to look for the “shows” and then do a “tell,” like this: you are at a fast food restaurant, and it is crazy busy. The manager is clearly at the front counter, asking how the order is going of a customer, patting the back of the employee, and telling the guy making the burgers that they are doing a good job. That’s the show. The tell? “Boy, that manager really cares about his people.” While we don’t want to be reading into things all the time, the ability to see how actions are characterizations of a person helps us to get to know others (and maybe see something about ourselves too).

Finding it in the Story :: pg 121 :: there are numerous descriptions of each individual monkey - how they look, how they act, and how they interact. (You can easily see more in the section about Yogger in the opening chapters, and in the sections that describe Mini Mate, Monkey Mo Mo, and Norman Nopants, to name a few). Each of these very specific descriptions about the monkeys are a result of careful Character Design.


Getting to the Heart of your Character

You can help your student get to know their character just like they get to know a real person. We’ve already given you some advice for helping your child develop their characters’ physical appearance and characterizations - but just as seeing a person from across the room isn’t an effective way to actually get to know someone, developing their physical appearance is only a superficial way to develop a character. To get to the heart of your character, the author has to find out what that character wants - or what we at Pirate’s Guide call “Character Desire.” So I also shared about finding out what your character wants and desires, with some easy tips to begin brainstorming those. So far, so good.

But why is this so important? Why does our character have to want something anyway? Yes, knowing these character wants and desires help set the author up for creating action in their story. And it’s so much more than even that. Because we aren’t talking about the simplest wants, though those will drive action too (a hungry character WANTS to eat, and that prompts them to take ACTION and sneak a cookie from the cookie jar).

What the character wants - as it relates to the story and the Act of Villainy (or conflict in the story - more on that in another post) - will define who the character is in the story, and it will determine the actions that they take within the story. The heart of the character - as it relates to the Act of Villainy - might make your character a hero, or a villain, or perhaps a princess. Let’s say that the Act of Villainy in our story is that a princess was stolen and locked into a tower. The character who desires to set the princess free is the Hero, even if he wears a black cape and hat, and twirls on his mustache. The character who is locked up in a tower is the Princess, even if they are a short dwarf who has bad breath. And the character that wants to keep that princess locked up is the Villain, even if he is tall, handsome, and rides a white steed. It is the desire of their heart - again, as it relates to the Act of Villainy - that determines
who your character is. And that will determine what they do. And what they do will determine, in part, how they relate to other characters.

Finding out what a character desires and why will help your student get to the heart of their character, and that will help them find their character’s place in the story.

(These are just a few thoughts to get you started as your child continues to develop their characters.
A Pirate’s Guide has more detailed explanation and exercises to really dig into the Act of Villainy in exercise #10, and what your character wants in exercise #17).