Creative Writing Tips: Character Profiles
I don't know a teenager alive today who isn't familiar with social networking web sites like Facebook or MySpace. Since this is familiar territory for high school students, it provides the perfect platform to provide them with creative writing tips. When I teach Creative Writing, I have students of all levels and interests in the class. In order to get them to think creatively, I like to use give them creative writing exercises like this one. It helps them ease their way into the process of writing a story, one character at a time.
To get the kids started and help them understand what I want them, I model the activity with a full-class discussion. I tell students they are going to create a mock MySpace or Facebook profile for a character in their next story. To get them thinking in the right direction, we'll start by having them create a MySpace profile for me.
The kids all find it hilarious that they will be helping me create my online persona. NOTE: We don't actually USE MySpace or Facebook for this assignment, as those sites tend to be blocked by school Internet monitors. Instead, the students sketch out the basic profile format on their own paper. For the large-group discussion, I use an overhead projector to create the profile for myself.
Every online profile is broken down into blocks of text, pictures, links, and other fun facts. For this assignment, I use the following sections.
Sections of a Social Networking Profile:
1. Screen Name: I ask students to invent a screen name for me. They should be creative and use what they know about my personality. My actual name shouldn't factor into the equation; I want them to think outside the box. Examples I have seen might be "HarryPotterluvr" or "EnglishGeek#1," etc.
2. Avatar: The avatar is the image or photo that a person uses to represent themselves on a social networking site. For this activity, students choose the type of photo they think I would display. For instance, if my screen name is "Harry Potterluvr," then I might use a photo of myself in a witch hat as my avatar.
3. Quote: On MySpace and Facebook, users can put in a famous quote or song lyric or other goofy phrase to display under their photo. I ask students to choose a quote for me; they might pick something from one of my favorite movies or a lyric from a band I've made them listen to, or a line from a Shakespearean sonnet. I tell them to choose a quotation that fits my personality in both content and source type.
4. "Favorites" List: Online social networking profiles contain a list of the user's favorite things. In particular, these lists usually involve songs, movies, books, and foods. I ask students to create a few of these for me; sometimes they already know a few, and sometimes they make inferences based on what they know about me.
5. Friends List: It is a topic of much contention among teenagers: the "top friends" list. Kids will change and rearrange their friends lists multiple times a day in response to the current status of their friendships with other kids. So I will ask my students to give me a list of people they think would be on my friends list: they can use real people, historical people, or fictional characters. Some examples might include JK Rowling, Adam Sandler, or even Adolf Hitler (depending on their opinion of me that day).
6. Group Affiliations: Social networking is about networking, after all. So the kids come up with a list of groups they think I might want to join, such as "Daily Dictionary Readers" or "The I Love Red Pens" group. They can make up these groups or put me into groups that already exist on MySpace or Facebook.
Now, it's the student's turn to create a new profile for a fictional character. If we are doing this lesson than kids are getting ready to create a short story for my class; this is an early step in that process. Using the same 6 categories as we used for my profile, I ask the kids to draw out a profile sketch for the main character in their next story. They can choose a Facebook- or MySpace-style format, as long as they include all 6 sections discussed in the warm-up.
Participating in this creative writing exercise helps kids think about their character from several angles. What does that character look like? What kind of friends do they have? How do they represent themselves to other people? I ask students to remember as they complete this assignment that most people aren't 100% honest on MySpace. So they need to consider what they know about their character, and what that character would choose to reveal to others online (and what they would choose to hide).
I collect and assess the assignments based on completion and creativity. I try to get them back to the kids quickly so they can use the ideas they generated as they move toward the creation of their next short story.