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By Oxford Owl, posted on 14th February 2018

4 fun ways to develop characters for a short story

Every story needs a star. From famous footballers to pet hamsters to superheroes, unforgettable characters make stories come to life. These four fun activities will help any aspiring author dream up some page-turning protagonists. Make sure you remind your child to submit their finished story to this year’s BBC 500 Words short story competition!

Please note: The closing date for BBC 500 Words 2020 is Thursday 27th February. Find out more on our BBC 500 Words page.

1. Instant impressions

Writers can use adjectives to create an instant picture in a reader’s mind. With your child, make a list of weird and wonderful adjectives such as ‘flashy’, ‘wheedling’ and ‘chinless’. Pick three to describe your story’s hero (they don’t all have to be positive!). See if your child can write a descriptive paragraph about their character using those three words. Then, why not do the same thing with the villain of the story?

2. Get the profile

Asking questions about the characters in a story can give writers the answers they need to bring them to life. Challenge your child to think about what a character is like and why they act the way they do. This can often help with plot ideas too!

Here are some ideas of the kind of questions you could ask:

  • What is your character’s name?
  • What does your character look like?
  • Does your character speak or make any sounds?
  • What interests or pet hates does your character have?
  • Does your character have a hobby? What do they do?
  • Where does your character live?
  • Does your character have a family?

Character profile

Download the BBC 500 Words activity sheet and encourage your child to collect and write down ideas about the lead character in their story.

See if they can to answer every question, to really find out what makes their character tick!

Download activity >

Author Top Tip
When you come up with story characters, keep thinking about them while you go about your daily life… What would they say in this situation? What would they eat for lunch? What would they do to have fun? You get to know them much better and it makes them more believable.

Clare Elsom

3. The game of the name

Unforgettable characters need a memorable name. Think about famous character names from fiction (like Lord Voldemort, Zaphod Beeblebrox, or Ebenezer Scrooge) and ask your child to guess what type of story they are from.

For example, would you expect to find a character called Eowyn Broadsword in a love story or a fantasy tale? Is this the kind of name you would give to a heroine or villain? Mindmap some ideas for character names that fit your child’s story.

4. Draw your character

This activity idea comes from author Sarah McIntyre: ‘Draw your character first! Sometimes it’s easier to write a story when you have a good sense of what your character looks like: the clothes they wear (or if it’s a beast, maybe fur, or scales, or feathers), and what their body language says about their personality.

You can also draw the world around them: do they live in a city, a rainforest, at the bottom of a well, under a bowling alley, on the moon?’

Author Top Tip
Try to make your characters real; try to make them come alive on the page; try to make them people we’d like to know more about. Let us know what makes them tick.

Charlie Higson

Now that your child has a set of interesting and unique characters, all that remains is to create a story around them. What crazy adventures and wild exploits will they find themselves in?

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How to Write Your Best Story Ever!

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Ideal for children wanting to enter story writing competitions! This is a humorous and authoritative book that will awaken the author in every child, unlocking their story ideas and giving them hints and tips to create their own stories.

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How To Be A Young #Writer

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This book will help children learn to craft brilliant stories, create believable characters, write powerful endings and much more. Packed with practical tips and insider advice from published authors, this guide opens up the secrets of how to write well and guides young writers all the way through from beating the fear of the blank page and learning to edit their work, to how to get other people reading their stories.

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Write Your Best Story Ever! Notebook

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A must-have notebook to unlock the imagination and inspire children to start writing, full of great hints and tips, and activity pages for jotting down words, sketching characters, and writing in stories.

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