Analyzing Character Development in a Story

My oldest child is in grade 9, and is generally a pretty good reader. He has read several things by the age of 16 that I never did. He was struggling with an assignment recently, which I thought was kind of simple for what he is capable of reading. It is a humbling reminder that we can’t always see students’ skills.

There are several ideas and skills to juggle when reading. One that is often practiced in school is character development. This process is easier than may initially appear, because it is a powerful part of what we enjoy most in the movies and stories we love.

The Beginning

In the beginning of any story we learn about the main character or characters. Quickly, we learn about their likes, dislikes, personality quirks, and problems. We know what they’re lacking, and we have a general, and sometimes specific idea of what they hope to accomplish or acquire by the end of the story. We have a pretty good idea of how the story is going to go, and are surprised when things don’t end up exactly how we imagined. In the movie Wall-E, the main character is alone, but ever persistent in his task. Does he want anything? Does he need anything? What does he discover he needs? If you haven’t seen the movie, it’s pretty good. I won’t spoil it for you. See if you can predict what he wants, and whether he’ll get it, or not.

The Middle

The main character has decisions to make throughout the story. Sometimes they’re insignificant and simply move the story along. Other decisions require some hope or faith, and a bit of luck to turn out the way the character wants. These conflicts help us to understand the main character on a deeper level. We understand a little bit more about the weakness, and desire that they are experiencing. We feel sympathy, and sometimes empathy for the dilemmas they find themselves in. Sometimes we even wonder what we would do if we were in their shoes.

The Conclusion

There are many possible outcomes to the conflict/resolution in a story. The main character could get what they want, or it could be a terrible ending. There are often twists and turns, and the story goes in an unpredicted direction. However the story ends, the main character has changed, and hopefully satisfactorily grown into someone bigger and better than they were before. Maybe they have found the love that they were after. Maybe they found out who they are, or where they are from. Maybe they became the hero everyone else knew they were. There are so many ways for a character to grow. The difficult part of the process is being able to identify what actually happened in the story.

One trick, (if you own the book) is to annotate in the book. Note where things happened that seem to be significant. Mark where you predict something will happen. Skilled readers do this mentally. Somehow they figure out how to bookmark specific events in the story. This means that it is a skill that can be learned and improved.
If you don’t own the copy of the book, you can keep a notebook, or a piece of paper that acts as a bookmark. Make little notes about what happened and where you found it on the page. Jot down the page number too. It seems like a simple, and maybe even unnecessary skill, but it helps to understand other elements of literature. The themes of the story will become more evident, the authors intent will be a little more clear.

For me, best of all, I love to make comparisons between characters and myself. I can relate to characters who desire change, or have an internal conflict that they aren’t sure how to overcome. Character development in books and stories helps me to see that I’m not a static never changing person, but hopefully one who is growing and learning from my mistakes.

Hope this helps! Let me know what you think!

Read on!

-Dave

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