#SOL20 Day 4: Letting Out The Meanie

Each week, I ask my writers to set an intention for the following week, and to let me know what, if any, support they might need. One of my kids asked me for some support on how to make her characters more complicated.

Well, this fourth grader also happens to be an incredible writer. As in, I wish I could employ the craft of narrative with the skill that she does. So before I rolled out all my resources I thought I’d just ask her. “What, in your mind, is a complicated character? What does that look like?”

That gave her some pause. She thought a moment, but still couldn’t come up with anything. So I asked from a different direction.

“Like, sometimes when we think about complicated or complex characters, it’s because we don’t always know what to think about them. Sometimes they say or do things that we might disagree with, and we’re not quite sure what to do with that.”

She thought more about that one. I think I was starting to get through.

I went on. “You know, we don’t always have to like the characters we interact with. But sometimes we might grow to like them as they change.”

So then she told me about the character she’s trying to create, one who had lost family members.

“Oh. Grief does make people do kind of weird things. Maybe then, this is a person who’s angry? Who does mean things to push others away?”

That seemed to get some traction. I decided to level with her.

“So…you’re a nice person. As another nice person, I think I can talk about this with you. Do you ever have times where you think about saying something mean, or you think about doing something mean, but you don’t because you’re a nice person?”

THAT got a nod. I knew it would. I know, because I’m a fellow nice person. I continued.

“So maybe this character will give you a chance to explore what it’s like to be that person who says and does the mean things that you never would. What do you think?”

And guess what? She’s going to take the leap! I told her I was pretty excited for her, and I think she may be pretty excited for her too. I also told her she’d be the inspiration for today’s slice. And at some point, I’ll let my nice-gal reputation slough off for long enough to create a mean ole character of my own.

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10 Responses to “#SOL20 Day 4: Letting Out The Meanie”

  1. Emily Culbertson Says:

    How fun! I’m excited for you both. I love this “THAT got a nod. I knew it would. I know, because I’m a fellow nice person. I continued.” I see myself in this whole conference, student and teacher. Thanks for sharing a nice person story.

    • Lainie Levin Says:

      Thanks! And who knows? Maybe before March is up I’ll get to share a not-so-nice person story.

  2. arjeha Says:

    It’s all in knowing the right questions to ask. Drawing out your student’s idea of what a complex character is helped you guide her to what she needed to hear and then do with sound reasoning behind it.

    • Lainie Levin Says:

      Thanks. I feel like so much of what I do is making my way in the dark. It’s nice to know when things turn out OK!

  3. melissaroosh Says:

    Those lightbulb moments and the carefully crafted questions from us teachers are partly why I haven’t left teaching just yet. Once we get those moments from kids, we keep coming back for more. -from a fellow nice person, who also knows

  4. Maureen Ingram Says:

    Love this line: “She’s going to take the leap!” Does a teacher want more from any student? You asked such great guiding questions. What fun she will have, creating her mean and complex character. Thanks for this!

  5. Fran Haley Says:

    This piece had such great flow – I could feel it building. Also a great mix of humor and honesty in your retelling of the event. I could feel the girl’s struggle. It’s hard to walk in another’s shoes but that, too, is one of writing’s great gifts. I once was invited to help a class create villains for their fantasy writing and we used heart maps to understand why villain acts the way a villain does … they took to it with startling relish -!

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