James and Jamie

Published January 28, 2013 by Elsa Pla

Woman Writing

A few years back, I did an “Author’s Study” with my 6th grade Language Arts class. I worked alongside my students, modeling the process. We chose Roald Dahl as the author whose body of work we would analyze and emulate. We studied  several of Roald Dahl’s children’s novels (James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and The Witches), and developed a list of recurring elements of style, plot, and characterization. Here’s a list similar to the one we created:

Roald Dahl’s Elements of Style

1- humorous names, figures of speech, sound words, adjectives, and poems.

2- wacky characters and preposterous circumstances

3- black humor and grotesque scenarios

4- foolish and/or evil stereotypical characters (often abusive adults) that can be ridiculed and who always get their comeuppance

5- criticism of abusive authority figures and of social issues such as spoiled children and violence

6- good children who rise above negative circumstances and punish the evil characters (usually adults)

7- good characters (including adults) who help and support the good children

8- unexpected but happy endings where the villain gets his/her comeuppance and the child gets his/her heart’s desire

The goal of the unit was to write a short story that incorporated as many of these elements as possible. The students had fun with this assignment and created and shared excellent little stories.

As part of the modeling process, I wrote the beginning of “The Famous Story of Jamie Jones,” a story about a 6th grade girl who is bullied into locking herself in her locker for a class period. The students loved it and encouraged me to finish it. A few months ago, I finally decided to do so.

I’ve shared this because the exercise I’ve been working on is a characterization study of the main character in a well-known story or novel and of the main character in one of my stories, and I chose James from the novel James and the Giant Peach and Jamie from my story “The Famous Story of Jamie Jones.”  You will notice the parallels between the two (there are also parallels between Jamie and Matilda from Matilda).

Here’s the characterization chart:

Know Your Character 2

MC = Main Character

The interesting and great thing about doing this exercise was that as I was describing my MC I realized that there are revisions I need to make to develop or “round”  my MC more. That’s the point of the exercise, of course; I just didn’t expect it to be as helpful as it was. In other words, I highly recommend it.

(A round character has a complex, realistic personality. A flat character is stock-like and simple. A dynamic character changes in some way during the story. A static character remains the same throughout the story. Usually the goal is for the MC to be a round, dynamic character.)

I plan to continue revising the Jamie story, and I’m also revising a collection of poems I intend to self-publish. I’ll be working on “showing, not telling” through the use of imagery and figurative language. I’ll share more on my next post.

Happy writing!

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